How revamped Olympic golf qualifying could benefit Tiger Woods’ chances of making the team

The one achievement that has thus far eluded Tiger Woods is an Olympic gold medal. He’ll probably have one more opportunity to rectify that, and he’s getting a bit of a pass because of the coronavirus pandemic. Let me explain.

Going into the end of March, Woods was the seventh-ranked American in the Official World Golf Rankings, which is a good number for him at this stage of his career, but not a number that would have qualified him for the Tokyo Olympics had they taken place in 2020. Only the top four from a country are allowed in.

However, because of the pandemic, the International Golf Federation has extended qualifying all the way to the end of June 2021 for both men and women. Between now and then, there are a bevy of massive events scheduled on the men’s side, including six major championships (two U.S. Opens, Masters and PGA Championships each). That could bring a huge shakeup in the OWGR and provide Woods the path he needs to qualify for Tokyo (it could also knock him further down the OWGR).

“Having received from the IOC confirmation of the dates for when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be held and the qualification principles, the fairest and most equitable way to determine the qualifying athletes was to align the previous qualification system with these new dates,” IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said in a statement. 

“We are pleased that the IOC swiftly approved these changes to provide clarity on this important area. …We remain fully committed to providing safe and fair golf competitions and a memorable experience for our athletes when these Olympic Games are held in 2021.”

The current top four in the United States include Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed. Johnson previously announced that he would not compete in Tokyo, but it remains to be seen if that holds true in 2021 (if he’s even in the top four to qualify).

Woods was asked about Olympic qualifying after his Masters win in 2019 when he was temporarily in the top four. He’s since fallen out of that top four but was (and is) still on the cusp of re-entering that ever-important top four.

“Would I like to play in the Olympics? Yes, I’ve never played in the Olympics, and I’m sure that I won’t have many more opportunities going forward at 43 years old now to play in many Olympics,” said Woods before the 2019 PGA Championship. “Yes, that would be a first for me and something that I would certainly welcome if I was part of the team.

“Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part. How many events do I play, do I add a couple more to get in. These are all questions that will be answered going forward. I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, [it] will take care of itself.”

The U.S. contenders at the Rio Olympics in 2016 — the first golf tournament in the Olympics since the beginning of the 20th century — included Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed.

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