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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the Olympics--Women

Alright. The men have made their debut, now it's the women's turn to play the Olympic Golf Course.

And it's my turn to do another "5 to Watch."

Inbee Park, Gerina Piller and Azahara Munoz ready for Rio

The temptation here is to load up on South Korean picks, since they are the only country with four players... and we know how dominant they are in the Rolex Rankings. However, I think the US men showed how difficult it can be to get even one medal -- perhaps more so for the Koreans, with all the pressure they must feel -- so I'm picking players from a variety of countries.

One obvious point I should address: I haven't picked Inbee Park simply because her thumb injury is a huge red flag for me. It has taken her out of competition for several weeks now and I just don't feel confident that she'll be able to play her best.

The fact that the women's schedule allowed for a couple weeks rest before this event should give a much greater cross-section of the field a chance to win, especially since three of their last four major winners are there (US Women's Open champ Brittany Lang didn't qualify) along with eight of the current Rolex Top10.

So although I'm picking a winner from my "5 to Watch" list, I'll also include a list with another five players I believe are worth keeping an eye on. I left some players off both lists even though I think they have a really good chance this week, like Ariya Jutanugarn, Shanshan Feng and Lexi Thompson (all strong players but somewhat inconsistent). Otherwise, I might as well just go by the Rolex.
  • Lydia Ko has been so consistent over the last year or so that it's impossible to leave her off this list. Add the fact that her short game has remained sharp -- and that short game has proven invaluable at the Olympic Course -- and you have to think she'll be there at the end.
  • Brooke Henderson has been just as consistent as Lydia, and the two seem to be feeding off each other. Again, a few weeks back I felt she was getting tired from playing so much but the break she just had makes me think she'll be ready to go Wednesday morning.
  • Sei Young Kim has that power game going for her, as well as a strong short game. I think that combination makes her a favorite among the Korean players.
  • Anna Nordqvist doesn't chip and pitch as well as the other gals, but she hits lots of greens. Between her GIR and the ability to use the putter off the tight lies in Rio, she should be able to navigate the greens just fine.
  • And for my flier pick, Stacy Lewis gets the nod. Normally I'd question whether Stacy might get in her own way, pressing to break through for another win. But Stacy's game is very much like Matt Kuchar's, and I greatly underestimated his ability to score in Rio. I won't make the same mistake with Stacy -- of the three Americans, she has the most well-rounded game.
And here are five more women who I think could make some noise.
  • Haru Nomura has quietly been going about her business this season... with enviable success. She could be the best golfer, male or female, that Japan sent to Rio. I wouldn't be surprised to see her on the medal stand.
  • In Gee Chun started the season on fire, but that freak back injury early on derailed her for a while. She could be the Korean counterpart to Justin Rose this week; the Olympic experience could jumpstart her season.
  • Nicole Broch Larsen from Denmark only has one win on the LET but she was their 2015 Player of the Year. She's coming in under the radar, and that may free her up to show what she can do.
  • Mariajo Uribe has had a rough year, but she's the only golfer, male or female, from Colombia in the Olympics. And in the past she has won the 2007 US Women's Am, the silver medal at the 2014 South American Games and the gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. That's a resume that you just can't ignore.
  • And you may have heard Paul McGinley on GC mention Leona Maguire, one of only three amateurs in the field... but I had her on this list before that. I'm a bit more familiar with her game simply because she plays for Duke University, about 90 minutes east of where I live. I won't recite her resume, other than to mention that she's the #1 ranked female amateur in the world. Why shouldn't an amateur win? It's the Olympics!
And my choice to get a medal? Of course I'm picking an American! Tim Rosaforte joked on Live From... that, with so many runner-up finishes over the last two years, Stacy Lewis should be a lock for the silver medal. But I like that way of thinking, for one reason -- as Matt Kuchar made clear, even third place feels great at the Olympics.

I like Stacy to get a medal, any medal... and that may be all she needs to break this runner-up funk she's been in.

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