What an amazing two days of Olympic Men’s golf we have witnessed at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo, Japan. The field of 60 has put on an absolute putting clinic due in part to the incredible condition of the greens. We have seen putts dropping from everywhere in the first 2 rounds, and it has been amazing to see how skilled these men are on a course in such perfect shape.
Thursday & Friday Recap
When I first turned on the Golf Channel broadcast, I had to check the time in Tokyo to make sure I was not just watching first-round highlights. I watched 13 consecutive puts drop in, anywhere from 5 to 30 feet. The greens are in such amazing shape that if these guys put a good stroke on the ball, it will go in from anywhere on the green.
Early it was the Austrian Sepp Straka who held the lead he could not miss from anywhere on the green and was striking the ball in amazing fashion. He started with an 8 under 63, which gave him a one-stroke lead over Jazz Janewattananond heading into Friday.
Jazz put on a ball-striking clinic in his own right and was able to capitalize throughout his first round posting a solid bogey-free 64.
Not many big names were at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the first round. Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, who has 1 PGA win, found himself just 2 back. But the big names like Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama, and even Xander Schauffele struggled on Thursday.
All of that changed on Friday. Rory McIlroy fired off a round of 66 to put himself at 7 under for the tournament. Hideki Matsuyama is 6 under on his round, which still has two holes left after being interrupted by a weather delay. Viktor Hovland is also quietly creeping up the leaderboard.
But at the top of the leaderboard sits one man alone, and that is the American Xander Schauffele, who came out on Friday and posted an 8 under 63 that included 2 eagles and 3 straight birdies to finish his day. Xander currently sits at 11 under but is being chased down by lots of golfers, all of who have the skills to catch him.
This is shaping up to be an amazing weekend and almost has the feel of a major championship. One thing that has plagued the names at the top of the leaderboard is the bogies they have suffered. This course is not one that is extremely hard. If you find fairways, it will be hard to make bogies for these players who are the best in the world at what they do.
Saturday is going to be an extremely important round for everybody near the top of the leaderboard. Any one of these names can go extremely low, and we have seen that the scoring is out there. If a guy like Rory or Matsuyama can play a bogey-free round, they will find themselves within striking distance come Sunday.
It is hard to pick against Xander here after watching the clinic he put together in his second round. He looks like his game is in a great place, and he is putting the ball well. He is one of the best ball strikers in the event, and if he can stay in the fairway, he will be a hard man to beat on Sunday.
Hideki Matsuyama is playing in his home country, unfortunately without the opportunity to play in front of a crowd due to COVID restrictions. I still think he has an advantage, playing on his home soil. However, he has noted there is a bit of added pressure to perform in his home country. He has looked solid, making lots of birdies throughout his first 2 rounds. He just has to avoid momentum-killing bogies. After making 4 birdies in his first 8 holes, Thursday Matsuyama bogeyed the 9th hole and did not record another birdie for the rest of his round. I think Matsuyama will be in the hunt on Sunday, and if he can stay away from bogies, he will have a chance to win.
Rory McIlroy has been one of the streakiest players on tour in the past year. He recorded a win at the Wells Fargo Championship then really has not performed well since. Rory’s ball-striking has looked flawless so far this week, I have only seen him miss a few iron shots. If it were not for a 360 lip out on an approach he put to 7 feet and a bogey on 18, Rory would be just 2 shots off the lead. If Rory can continue to hit his driver straight, I like his chances this weekend. His putter, which has let him down most of the year, has not been trouble for him at all.
If Rory continues to hit fairways, I think he can chase down Xander. He has to avoid bogies and cannot get discouraged if he misses a putt.
My Pick: Rory McIlroy
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