The Olympic Golf competition, men’s division, got underway on Thursday in Saitama, Japan. And the biggest names in the field were nowhere near the top of the leaderboard.
Entering the event, Collin Morikawa was seen as the favorite to win. Coming off an impressive showing at the Open Championship, where he claimed the Claret Jug, Morikawa was installed as the betting favorite. But the world’s third-ranked player struggled on Thursday, shooting a 2-under par 69 to sit six shots back.
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Justin Thomas, the world’s fourth-ranked player, is also nowhere near the top of the leaderboard through 18 holes. Thomas, playing for the United States, was extremely consistent on Thursday, making 18 pars in his round. He’s eight shots behind.
World number five Xander Schauffele fared just a little better than Morikawa and Thomas. Schauffele shot a 3-under par 68 and is five shots back. That means that none of the three players in this week’s field who are ranked in the world’s Top 10 are within five shots of the lead.
How about world number 11 Viktor Hovland? He got it to 5-under par at one point on Thursday but settled for a 3-under par 68. The 12th-ranked player in the world, Patrick Reed of the United States, also shot 3-under par.
Rory McIlroy, ranked 13th in the world, shot a 2-under par 69 as well. He’s six shots behind.
Hideki Matsuyama, playing in his home country of Japan, shot 2-under par 69 on Thursday. The world’s 20th-ranked player is expected to fare well playing in his native land.
If none of those players are close to the lead, who is?
Sepp Straka of Austria shot an 8-under par 63 on Thursday to grab the 18-hole lead. Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand shot a 7-under par 64 and is one shot back. Carlos Ortiz of Mexico and Thomas Pieters of Belgium both shot 65 and are two shots behind.
There is still plenty of golf left before medals are handed out. But Thursday’s results were surprising, to say the least.