10 Players to Watch: Men’s Olympic Tournament

1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — Only four weeks after becoming the first Swedish man to capture a major title when he won the Open Championship at Royal Troon, Stenson finds himself as the favorite in the first Olympic golf competition since 1904 in St. Louis. The highest-ranked player in the World Golf Ranking in the field at No. 5, he also won the BMW International Open on the European Tour a few weeks earlier and is enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career at the age of 40. In addition to running his career victory total to 19, the big Swede finished second in the Shell Houston Open, tied for third in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, tied for fourth in the
Nordea Masters and tied for seventh in the PGA Championship.

2. Bubba Watson, United States — Since Watson has all the shots, his game should play well on any course out there, but sometimes he seems to talk himself into being negative about what he sees in front of him. However, if he can take an instant liking to the Olympic Golf Course designed by Gil Hanse, he could we wearing the gold medal on Sunday. Watson, ranked No. 6 in the world and also No. 6 in the FedEx Cup standings, needs to play back to his form of early this season, when he claimed his ninth PGA Tour victory by winning the Northern Trust Open for the second time in three years and followed that up in his next start by finishing second, one stroke behind Adam Scott of Australia in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

3. Sergio Garcia, Spain — While Garcia has won 29 times in his career, he is considered by some to be an underachiever because he has never won a major. However, he has been brilliant while representing Spain, particularly in the Ryder Cup. Wearing his national colors in Rio could bring out the best in his game, which was very sharp until he missed the cut in his last start at the PGA Championship. Garcia, No. 11 in the world, beat Brooks Koepka in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and then tied for fifth in both the U.S. Open at Oakmont and the Open Championship at Royal Troon. Also this season, he finished second in the Honda Classic, was third in the Spanish Open and tied for fifth in the BMW International Open.

4. Justin Rose, Great Britain — The Brits have a strong 1-2 punch in the Olympics with Rose, 12th in the world, and Masters champion Danny Willett, who is No. 9. Still looking for his first PGA Tour victory this season after claiming at least one in each of the previous six years, Rose started 2015-16 in good form but has not played as well lately. The 2013 U.S. Open champion tied for sixth in both the Frys.com Open and the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tied for ninth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 10th in the Masters. However, he has finished in the top 10 only once in his last nine starts, solo third in the Wells Fargo Championship. Rose has played well when representing his country in the Ryder Cup and other team events.

5. Rickie Fowler, United States — After winning the Players Championship, the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank Championship last season, Fowler hasn’t played as well this year, but a medal in the Olympics would change all that. He started the year on a good run by tying for fifth in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, losing in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, tying for sixth in the Honda Classic and tying for eighth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. However, he has only three top-10s since, including a tie for 10th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Fowler has shown he can win on foreign soil, capturing the 2011 Korean Open, the 2015 Scottish Open and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship earlier this year.

6. Danny Willett, Great Britain — The 2016 Masters champion might not have the name recognition of some of the other players, but he is no fluke. Ranked No. 9, he has won four times around the world in the last three years, also claiming titles in the 2014 Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, the 2015 European Masters in Switzerland and the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year. Willett, who joined the PGA Tour after winning at Augusta National in April, leads the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings. In addition to his two victories this year, he tied for fourth in the Nedbank Challenge, tied for third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and finished solo third in the BMW PGA Championship.

7. Martin Kaymer, Germany — Although Kaymer, a two-time major champion, does not have a victory since claiming the 22nd of his career in 2014, he has shown in recent months that his game is on the way back. He tied for sixth in the Spanish Open, tied for fifth in the Irish Open, tied for seventh in the BMW PGA Championship and tied for fifth in the French Open on the European Tour. Then, in his last start, Kaymer tied for seventh in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol. He captured the 2010 PGA Championship in a playoff over Bubba Watson at Whistling Straits and the 2014 U.S. Open by eight strokes at Pinehurst No. 2, so perhaps being back on the world stage in Rio de Janeiro might again bring out his best stuff.

8. Patrick Reed, United States — Even before Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth decided not to play in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of fears brought on by the Zika virus, Reed said he would play for the Red, White and Blue any time he is asked. He landed the final spot on the U.S. team and might wind up being a medal contender based on his strong play when he played for the American teams in the 2014 Ryder Cup and the 2015 Presidents Cup. Reed claimed four victories in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour, and even though he has not found the winner’s circle this year, he finished second in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Valero Texas Open among his nine results in the top 10.

9. Matt Kuchar, United States — Kuchar is the second player who made the U.S. team because Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth decided not to go to Rio, and he has plenty of experience playing for the American side. He has made three appearances each in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, and when the other top Americans didn’t want to make the trip to China for the 2011 World Cup, he took Gary Woodland with him and they claimed the title for the United States. Kuchar took Kevin Streelman with him two years later, and they finished second behind Australia. Kuchar claimed the most recent of his seven PGA Tour victories in the 2014 RBC Heritage, but he has nine top-10 finishes this season, including third-place results in the Players Championship, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

10. Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela — Vegas leads the South American Olympic contingent along with Emiliano Grillo and Fabian Gomez of Argentina, plus 44-year-old home favorite Adilson da Silva of Brazil. Vegas claimed his second PGA Tour victory last month at the RBC Canadian Open, ending a five-year drought going back to the 2011 Bob Hope Classic. Much was expected when he earned that first victory in a playoff over Bill Haas and Gary Woodland to become the first Venezuelan to win on the PGA Tour, but only now does Vegas seem to be ready to fulfill that potential. He has finished in the top five on four occasions this season, including his victory in Canada, and he is coming off a tie for 22nd in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

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