U.S. eye medal sweep, revel in village life

British golfer Justin Rose (left), teeing off during practice in Rio, and Rickie Fowler of the US are among only eight of the world's top 20 golfers to make it to the Games.
British golfer Justin Rose (above), teeing off during practice in Rio, and Rickie Fowler of the US are among only eight of the world's top 20 golfers to make it to the Games.PHOTOS: REUTERS
British golfer Justin Rose (left), teeing off during practice in Rio, and Rickie Fowler of the US are among only eight of the world's top 20 golfers to make it to the Games.
British golfer Justin Rose, teeing off during practice in Rio, and Rickie Fowler of the US are among only eight of the world's top 20 golfers to make it to the Games.PHOTOS: REUTERS

Absent stars will regret their decision, claims Kuchar as he hopes the IOC will retain golf

RIO DE JANEIRO • America's mega-rich golfers are enjoying meeting other athletes at the Rio Olympics, but they hope not to hang out on the course with the world's largest rodents or crocodile-like caimans.

Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar are adjusting to life at the Olympic Village ahead of the return of Olympic golf tomorrow after a 112-year absence.

"Seeing what it means to some of the other athletes, this is a special opportunity for sure," Fowler said.

"I had a warm welcome from other athletes and they were thanking me for being here. They appreciated me big time. They are glad we decided to come."

That was partly because the world's top four players - Australian Jason Day, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland - and many others decided to skip Rio, most citing fears of possible future birth defects linked to the mosquito-borne illness Zika.

"There will certainly be guys regretting not showing up," Kuchar said. "I know there were concerns. A lot of things get blown out of proportion."

A 60-man field for the 72-hole strokeplay event will find wildlife in abundance on the course with caimans and chunky rodents known as capybaras on the scene.

"Hopefully we don't have any encounters," Fowler said.

"Capybara, it's a decent-sized animal. I wouldn't want to get in a fight with it, that's for sure. And the caimans, I'm going to keep away from them."

The US foursome, allowed to exceed the usual maximum of two per nation because all were ranked in the top 15 on selection day, are half of the top 20 golfers in Rio.

Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Spanish world No. 11 Sergio Garcia and British Major winners Danny Willett and Justin Rose are the others.

"It's not going to be easy to win this thing," world No. 8 Fowler said. "We're going to have to play well. But we're the only country that has a chance at a podium sweep so that's kind of cool."

The promise of silver and bronze medals could impact shot selection late on Sunday more than it might at a regular event when near-miss winners matter less.

"If I'm third, I'm going to make sure I don't go back to fourth real quick," said two-time Masters champion and world No. 6 Watson.

Kuchar says he is sure the International Olympic Committee will keep golf beyond 2020 when it reconsiders Games events next year.

"I imagine golf is going to be a big success and it's going to be an easy one to keep in the rotation of sports," said the world No. 20.

"(Odd) circumstances led to guys not participating, but I think the event is going to go off great."

US golfers watched their compatriot, swimmer Michael Phelps, the all-time Olympic medal king, on Tuesday and plan to catch Usain Bolt in the 100m final just hours after their last round.

"It's inspiring," Fowler said of watching the Games.

"You get chills watching them when they do well."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'U.S. eye medal sweep, revel in village life'. Print Edition | Subscribe