Masters could be pivotal for Phil Mickelson’s Olympic hopes

Phil Mickelson
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Currently out of the Olympic field, Phil Mickelson can jump back into contention at the Masters, where he has a track record of strong finishes.

The Masters is the penultimate major before the Olympic men’s golf field will be determined based on world ranking.

The top four U.S. men in the Official World Golf Ranking top 15 on July 11 (the Monday before the British Open) qualify for the first U.S. Olympic golf team in 112 years.

World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, No. 4 Bubba Watson and No. 5 Rickie Fowler are in driver seats for three of the four spots, as they have been since Fowler won the May 2015 Players Championship.

The next-highest ranked American is Dustin Johnson at No. 8, followed by Patrick Reed at No. 10.

Upward movers since Jan. 1 have been veterans Brandt Snedeker (rising from No. 49 to No. 17) and Mickelson (from No. 34 to No. 18).

Since the two-year, rolling world ranking weighs the most recent results the heaviest, Snedeker and Mickelson may have a leg up on No. 16 Zach Johnson and No. 19 Brooks Koepka, who have each dropped three spots since Jan. 1.

Mickelson will certainly be scrutinized this week. He’s a three-time Masters champion, finishing in the top 10 a staggering 15 times in the last 21 years at Augusta National.

Mickelson, 45, is in the midst of by far the longest winless stretch of his career.

He last prevailed at the 2013 British Open but tied for second at the 2015 Masters and has three PGA Tour top-fives this year, one shy of his total for 2014 and 2015 combined.

However, Mickelson duffed a crucial shot at making up ground on Johnson and Reed at the World Match Play Championships two weeks ago.

He lost to Reed 5&4 with a spot in the round of 16 at stake. Reed advanced to play Johnson, with Johnson reaching the quarterfinals to consolidate his place as the No. 4 U.S. man behind Spieth, Watson and Fowler.

Outside of the U.S., the best Olympic teams are looking like Australia and Great Britain.

The Australian team appears set with No. 1 Jason Day and No. 7 Adam Scott, though Scott has been critical of Olympic golf. It wouldn’t be shocking for Scott to turn down an Olympic place, which would open the door for No. 31 Marc Leishman.

While the U.S. can send four men to the Olympics in the top 15, once outside the top 15 a nation’s total number of Olympic golfers is capped at two men. Hence Leishman having little chance if Day and Scott accept berths, unless he cracks the top 15.

Great Britain also has two men in the top 15 — No. 9 Justin Rose and No. 12 Danny Willett — and nobody else until No. 25 Paul Casey.

One man in the Masters field who doesn’t need to worry is 53-year-old Vijay Singh, who is ranked No. 215 but is virtually (if not mathematically) assured a place in the Olympics. Singh is from Fiji, and Fiji has no other golfers ranked in the top 1,000.

Singh would make the Olympics as the 49th out of 60 qualified golfers based on this week’s rankings. The last qualifier based on this week’s rankings is Mardan Mamat of Singapore, who at No. 360 is 145 places below Singh in the world ranking.

Of golf’s Big Four of Singh, Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els from the early 2000s, Singh, the oldest by seven years, will likely be the lone representative at the Rio Games.

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