Golf on shaky road to Rio after player pullouts

Fri Jul 8, 2016 9:39am EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - Seven years after successfully pleading its case to be re-admitted to the Olympics following an absence of more than a century, golf is on increasingly shaky ground as it prepares to be showcased at the Rio Games next month.

Three of the world's top-10 players in the men's game have already opted out of Rio, along with four other former major winners and exciting Japanese talent Hideki Matsuyama among others. More withdrawals are likely to follow suit.

Australian world number one Jason Day and fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy were vocal backers of Olympic golf until they decided not to go because of concerns over Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that is spreading across the Americas.

However, four-times major champion McIlroy of Northern Ireland indicated at last week's French Open that Zika fears were not the only reason for his withdrawal.

"Most other athletes dream their whole lives of competing in the Olympics, winning an Olympic Gold, and we (golfers) haven't," McIlroy said.

"We dream of winning Claret Jugs (at the British Open) and we dream of winning green jackets (at the Masters). Whether that makes golf look insular in any way ... it's just the way it is."

World number eight Adam Scott of Australia, another notable absentee, told Reuters a year ago that he was unlikely to be in Rio as he considered Olympic golf to be an "exhibition", with other sports much more deserving of Games exposure.

While only one women's player, South African Lee-Anne Pace, has so far pulled out of global sport's showpiece, the alarming exodus of so many high-profile names will not help efforts to grow golf worldwide on the back of the Rio Games.   Continued...

Jul 3, 2016; Akron, OH, USA; Jason Day of Australia lines up a putt on the fifth green during the final round of the 2016 Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports