The Olympic Games takes centre stage in the golf world this week and our man fancies the home hero, Hideki Matsuyama, to strike gold. Read Steve's preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Matsuyama has a fabulous record in his homeland with eight victories from 46 starts (17.5% strike-rate) and he’ll know the course better than anyone else in the field."
Golf returned to the Olympics in Rio five years ago, after a break of a 112 years, when England's Justin Rose edged out Sweden's Henrik Stenson, with America's Matt Kuchar picking up the bronze medal.
None of the three medallists from Rio are in attendance this time around and of the 60 golfers in the line-up, representing 35 different nations, only nine are appearing in the Games for a second time, with the most recognisable of the event being America's Patrick Reed - a last minute replacement for Bryson DeChambeau.
The 2020 US Open winner, DeChambeau, along with the 2021 US Open winner, Spain's Jon Rahm, have both been forced to withdraw due to a positive COVID test.
Format and Qualification Criteria
The tournament is a traditional 72-hole stroke play event played out over four days between Thursday 29 July and Sunday 1 August. If there is a tie for any of the three medal positions after the 72 holes have been played, there'll be a three-hole play-off to determine the result. If there is still a tie after the three-hole playoff, it will go to sudden death.
Qualification was based on the world rankings as of 21 June 2021. The top 15 players qualified, with a limit of four golfers per country, that could qualify this way. The remaining spots went to the highest-ranked players from countries that did not already have two golfers qualified. The IGF guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) would qualify.
A number of players that could have played have decided against it so the field isn't as strong as it could have been.
East Course, Kasumigaseki Country Club, Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan
Par 71, 7,447 yards
The Kasumigaseki Country Club, which has two courses, the East and the West, dates back all the way back to the 1920s.
It's held a number of prestigious events previously - most recently the Japan Open in 2006, won by Australia's Paul Sheehan, and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, won by this year's US Masters winner, Hideki Matsuyama. On both those occasions, the West Course was used, but this week's venue is the East Course.
The classical, tree-lined East Course was redesigned by Tom Fazio and his son Logan in October 2016. It's a par 71 with four par threes and three par fives, located approximately 25 miles northwest of Tokyo.
Following the recent renovation, the East Course can now stretch to a lengthy 7,447 yards with generous Zoysia grass fairways and large bentgrass greens that are described on the course's website as having "dynamic level changes surrounded by large and deep bunkers".
Tom Fazio describes the front-nine here.
And the back-nine here.
The Olympics can be viewed on the BBC, Eurosport and the Discovery Channel.
What Will it Take to Win The Gold Medal?
Given how little we know of the venue, and that we've only had one edition of golf in the Olympics in the last 100 years, it's very difficult to know where to start.
From a course perspective, Tom Fazio originally designed PGA National, home of the Honda Classic, Shadow Creek, the host course for the 2020 CJ Cup, Congaree Golf Club, which recently hosted the Palmetto Championship, and he's also responsible for the Corales Golf Club, which hosts the Corales Puntacana Championship each year in Dominican Republic.
Fazio also redesigned the Seaside Course in Sea Island, home of the RSM Classic, Quail Hollow, where the Wells Fargo Championship is staged, as well as Riviera Country Club, home of the Genesis Invitational.
Form at any of those courses can be construed as a plus but if the 2016 renewal is anything to go by, we should be concentrating on the front of the market. The three medallists in Rio were all fairly-well fancied and outsiders didn't really get a look in.
Can the Koreans safe themselves from National Service?
The Olympics may have been ignored by the likes of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka but it's a huge deal for the two Koreans in the field - Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim - who can avoid National Service altogether if they can manage to grab a medal.
We've already witnessed the devastating effect military service has had on PGA Tour winners, Sueng Yul Noh and Sang Moon Bae, who have lost their form completely since serving their country, so if you fancy siding with someone with added inspiration to play well, look no further than the Korean contingent.
Open Champion, and pre-event favourite, Collin Morikawa has Japanese heritage and the 24-year-old Californian has already performed well in Japan - finishing 22nd in the Zozo Championship and fifth in the Dunlop Phoenix in 2019 - and he's the man to beat.
With the rough described as 'quite tricky to play out of' by Canada's Mackenzie Hughes, Morikawa's neat and tidy long game is ideal for the venue but how will he putt? And will he be ready to back up his biggest ever victory?
Xander Schauffele is another American with close links to Japan (his mother grew up there) and he too has form there. The world number five finished second in the 2017 Dunlop Phoenix and 10th in the 2019 Zozo Championship. Schauffele is incredibly consistent, with current form figures reading 3-11-14-MC-11-7-10-26 but it's now more than two-and-a-half years since he won and I'm happy to leave him out.
Justin Thomas won his major - the 2017 USPGA Championship - at the Fazio-reworked Quail Hollow and he also has form at Riviera and PGA National. He was fourth in the 2016 Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and 17th in the 2019 Zozo so he has form here too but he hasn't contended seriously since he won the Players championship in March and he's easy to dismiss at the prices.
Home hero, Hideki Matsuyama, might just raise to the occasion now he's a major champion and I'm happy to throw a few pounds in his direction.
Matsuyama has a fabulous record in his homeland with eight victories from 46 starts (17.5% strike-rate) and he'll know the course better than anyone else in the field.
Hideki Matsuyama @ 15.014/1
I'll be back later with my ISPS Handa World Invitational preview.