Dustin Johnson
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As U.S. Open starts, Olympic men’s golf picture far from settled

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Dustin Johnson is grouped with Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau for the first two rounds of this week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It’s possible none of them will play in the Tokyo Olympics.

Such is the qualifying scenario for one of the hardest teams to make in all Olympic sports — the U.S. men’s golf roster.

The top four Americans in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) after the 2021 U.S. Open will qualify outright for the Tokyo Games (assuming they are top 15 in the world, which at this point looks certain).

Since the OWGR is made up of a golfer’s results from the last two years, many tournaments with Olympic qualifying points at stake have already been played. This week’s U.S. Open, as a major, carries a significant amount of points (though next year’s U.S. Open will have the most points, as the ranking places greater weight on recent tournaments).

U.S. OPEN: NBC TV Schedule | GolfChannel.com Coverage

Johnson, coming off his FedEx Cup title, is ranked No. 1 in the world and No. 1 in Olympic qualifying.

But back in March, he ruled out playing in the Tokyo Olympics had they been held as originally planned in 2020. Johnson prioritized the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which were to start two weeks after the Olympic tournament on the other side of the world.

Much has changed in the last six months. The Olympics, now postponed to 2021. The PGA Tour schedule added an extra week between the Olympic tournament and the Playoffs next year (though the inserted tournament is a World Golf Championships event). And Johnson is now a FedEx Cup champion, crossing off a career goal.

Johnson’s manager said Tuesday that his golfer’s Olympic plans have not been discussed lately.

“We will likely sit down and look at the schedule later this year and formulate a plan for 2021,” David Winkle said in an email.

Golf Channel rankings guru Alan Robison has Johnson followed by Justin ThomasCollin Morikawa and Webb Simpson in the current U.S. Olympic qualifying standings. If Johnson passes on an Olympic spot, Xander Schauffele is next in line.

As of now, the following players would not qualify for the Olympics outright despite being ranked Nos. 7-11 in the world: Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay.

Last year at this time, Koepka led Olympic qualifying. He appeared a shoo-in for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

But with the Olympics pushed back a year, his points from winning the 2019 PGA Championship and placing fourth or better in last year’s other three majors were downgraded significantly with OWGR recency weighting. He has just one top-five PGA Tour finish in the last 12 months, while other Americans surged.

Likewise, Woods put himself in 2020 Olympic contention by winning the 2019 Masters and last October’s Zozo Championship in Japan.

But Woods, who continues to play a limited schedule (which the OWGR formula discourages), has finished higher than 37th in one tournament in 2020 (a tie for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January).

He slid outside the top 20 in the OWGR and well outside the top 10 in U.S. Olympic qualifying. For Woods and just about any American, a victory at Winged Foot would put them in Olympic contention.

Koepka will miss the U.S. Open after battling knee and hip injuries. Fortunately for him and Woods, the biggest tournaments in Olympic qualifying are still to come, including a pair of Masters.

MORE: ‘Road to Tokyo’ Olympic, Paralympic channel launches on Peacock

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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