Rahm and DeChambeau out of the Olympics, Tokyo field wide open

The Spaniard and the American have both tested positive for Covid, a second pandemic blow for the World No. 1.

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Golf's re-integration to the Olympics continues to be less than straightforward with the announcement on Sunday morning that the World No. 1 Jon Rahm and sixth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau had been forced from next week's field in Japan.

Five years ago in Rio de Janeiro the field was weakened by fears of the Zika virus and apathy from many of the world's elite.

The performance of Justin Rose, who thrived on the world stage and has proudly worn his gold medal just about anywhere ever since, changed the perception of the Games among the sport's finest, but the health issues have, of course, worsened.

The loss of Rahm and DeChambeau from the field opens the event up to an extraordinary degree - the overwhelming favourite is out and so is one of those expected to provide him the greatest challenge.

Captain America

Immediately, Spain offered up no replacement for their medal hope, but Patrick Reed stepped into DeChambeau's shoes.

"I am so excited to have the opportunity to represent our country and be a part of Team USA in Tokyo," said Reed, the self-styled Captain America of multiple Ryder and Presidents Cup matches.

"I wish Bryson nothing but the best, and I know how disappointed he is to not be able to compete, and I will do my best to play my best and represent our country."

DeChambeau himself said: "I am deeply disappointed not to be able to compete in the Olympics for Team USA.

"Representing my country means the world to me and it was a tremendous honour to make this team. I wish Team USA the best of luck next week in Tokyo.

"I will now focus on getting healthy, and I look forward to returning to competition once I am cleared to do so."

Andy Levinson, USA Golf Executive Director added: "We're thrilled that Patrick Reed is excited to play for his country when he is called upon, even with the strenuous testing protocols and he is set to arrive just in time to compete, on a golf course he will have never seen prior to the start of competition.

"It really illustrates the importance of the Olympics and the value Patrick places on playing for Team USA and for his country. We're excited to welcome him to Tokyo soon and know he'll be a formidable competitor for Team USA."

New favourite

There was no word from Rahm, but it will hit him hard. He is in superb form and it is also the second time he has had to take time out following positive test results - the first time when six shots clear after three rounds of the Memorial Tournament.

His withdrawal saw Collin Morikawa assume favouritism on 7/1, with his compatriots Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas not far behind on 9/1 and 10/1 respectively.

Rory McIlroy is best price 12/1.

Japan's hero

Meanwhile, home hero Hideki Matsuyama posed for team photos with his team-mates Rikuya Hoshino, Nasa Hataoka and Mone Inami at the host venue, the Kasumigaseki Country Club on Sunday.

The Masters champion has had his own brush with Covid and hasn't played in over a month, but he will carry his nation's hopes and will aim to add to his six wins at PGA Tour level.

He stood in front of the five Olympic rings and said: "Finally, the Olympic Games will begin soon. I will brace myself and I hope I can deliver a good performance.

"When I got infected with Covid in the US, I could not really practice. But since I came back, I have been able to practice gradually, so I can't wait to tee up in the competition.

"My condition has been getting better and I am looking forward to the Olympic Games."

The host club holds fond memories for Japanese golf - the country won the 1957 Canada Cup (effectively the World Cup) there and it was responsible for the sport's boom thereafter.

Matsuyama himself has enjoyed success on its fairways and green, too. He claimed the 2009 Japan Junior there and also the 2010 Asia Pacific Amateur Championship.

The latter took place on the West Course, rather than the East Course which hosts this week, but that win earned Matsuyama a very special invitation.

"Winning the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship gave me the opportunity to play in the Masters Tournament," he said. "Making the cut that week helped me realize I could actually have a career playing golf."

The Olympic Men's Golf Competition starts on Thursday with the Women's a week later. There will be previews early next week on PlanetSport.

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