Brooks Koepka plays a shot during a practice round prior to The Masters on April 10, 2019 in Augusta, Ga.
There are still more than 14 months left for golfers to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but as it stands right now, the U.S. is sitting pretty with four men among the top six of the rankings.
But the Masters could change all of that.
The first men’s major of the year is this week in Augusta, Georgia, and the narrow fairways and slick greens at Augusta National Golf Course have a history of producing an unpredictable champion, including 2016 Olympian Patrick Reed last year and Danny Willett in 2016.
With an eye on Tokyo, here’s a look at the key storylines at this year’s Masters:
The Masters And The Olympics
Sixty men’s players will participate in Tokyo, with as many as four qualifying from a single country. The top 15 in the Olympic Golf Rankings automatically earn spots, which could reflect up to four per country, and countries with zero or one athlete in the top 15 can send up to two based on rankings outside the top 15, until the total of 60 is hit.
The OGR — patterned after the World Golf Ranking — is determined from July 2018 through June 22, 2020, with the final event being the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York.
Events in the OGR are weighted, with more impact given to tournaments closest to the selection deadline. So next year’s Masters will have a greater point value than this year’s tournament. The strength of the field of each tournament is also considered. With this being a major, players will have a chance to make a big jump in the OGR.
If The Games Started Today
The U.S. is the only nation with four players in the top 15 of the men’s OGR — and they enter this week all in the top six. That means, as of today, Dustin Johnson (No. 2), Brooks Koepka (4), Justin Thomas (5) and Bryson DeChambeau (6) would be the U.S. men’s team for Tokyo, none of whom represented Team USA at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
Johnson could be poised to add a Masters title to his 2016 U.S. Open victory. The world’s No. 2 player in both rankings already has a big win this season, capturing the WGC-Mexico Championship in late February for his 20th career title, to go along with tying for fifth at The Players Championship last month.
Koepka has won three of the last seven majors: back-to-back U.S. Opens and the 2018 PGA Championship. He is fourth in the OGR and missed last year’s Masters due to wrist surgery. Thomas has consistently been on the leaderboard this season, with five top-10 finishes, including a second place at the Genesis Open in February. DeChambeau has yet to win a major among his five career victories.
The 2016 Olympians
Reed, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler represented the U.S. in Rio, when golf returned to the Games after more than a century hiatus. As the defending Masters champion, Reed will be in the spotlight this week as he aims to become the first to win back-to-back green jackets since Tiger Woods in 2001-02. Reed, who finished tied for 11th in Rio, is 18th in the World Golf Ranking.
Kuchar, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, has won twice this season. He ranks 16th in the WGR, but leads the FedEx Cup points race.
Fowler, one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour who tied for 37th in Rio, finished second to Reed at last year’s Masters and sits ninth in the WGR. He won the Waste Management Open in February, but has yet to win a major.
Watson, who was tied for eighth in Rio, is a two-time Masters champ (2012, 2014) and is 17th in the WGR. He has yet to win this season, finishing in the top 10 just twice.
Other 2020 Contenders To Watch
Never rule out Tiger Woods, especially at the Masters. Woods is a four-time Masters champ but hasn’t donned a green jacket since beating Chris DiMarco on the first playoff hole in 2005. Coming off three back surgeries and without a major win since 2008, Woods — 12th in the WGR — is showing signs of reestablishing his roar.
Xander Schauffele is the only other American in the WGR top 10, coming in at that tenth spot.
One other name to watch is Jordan Spieth. He’s been struggling recently and is 33rd in the WGR, yet the Masters could get his season back on track. In five career starts at Augusta, Spieth has one win and four top-three finishes.
Internationals To Watch
Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite going into the Masters but has never finished higher than fourth (2015) at Augusta. The Masters is the missing piece of his career Grand Slam. He is third in the OGR.
England’s Justin Rose, the gold medalist in Rio, just became the top-ranked player in the world this week and has been runner-up at the Masters twice (2015, 2017). He leads three from Great Britain in the OGR top 15 (Paul Casey is ninth and Tommy Fleetwood 10th) and is seeking his second major title after winning the 2013 U.S. Open.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson won the silver medal in Rio and is 17th in the OGR, having yet to win this season. In fact, Stenson has just two wins since the 2013 season, one being the 2016 British Open.
Augusta And The Field
For the first time since 2006, Augusta National features a significant course alteration. The fifth hole, which already was one of the toughest holes at Augusta, has been transformed, with an extra 40 yards added and players saying the tee box put in a tougher position. The extent of the changes won’t be fully known until the TV cameras catch a glimpse in the first round on Thursday.
This Masters has the feel of something special, with Woods being considered a threat and the young stars of a few years ago — many listed above — having that much more experience and desire. If you asked for a list of legitimate contenders, at least 10 names could be rattled off without hesitation. Combine that with Augusta’s unpredictability and the Masters is setting up for a fantastic weekend.