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Jason Day ‘definitely’ wants to play 2020 Olympics

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Australian golfer Jason Day, who skipped the Rio Olympics while ranked No. 1 in the world, said he “definitely wants to” play at the 2020 Tokyo Games, should he qualify.

Day, 30, withdrew one month before the Rio Olympics, citing Zika virus concerns.

The top four players in the world at the time skipped the Rio Games — Day, Dustin JohnsonJordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

“The biggest thing, it’s really unfortunate because I didn’t want it to come off the way it did,” Day said Wednesday. “It was just difficult because I know that if you’re in a certain sport sometimes you only get these opportunities once, and I’m in a sport where I can stick around for a very long time. If I’m good enough, I can be in multiple Olympic teams.”

Day struggled last season, going winless and falling to No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

If Olympic golf qualifying remains the same for 2020, Day must either stay ranked in the top 15 or be one of the top two ranked Aussies come 2020 to assure himself a spot on the team.

Marc Leishman is No. 13, followed by Adam Scott at No. 30. Both of them also skipped Rio.

“I want to represent Australia very much so,” Day said. “Japan’s one of my favorite countries to ever visit, so if I have the opportunity to get on the team, I’m getting my plane ticket straight away.

“I’m looking forward to playing.”

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Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to numerous dropouts

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — For the longest time, golf’s biggest headache in preparing for a return to the Olympics was getting a new course built in Rio de Janeiro.

That seems like a nuisance compared with its next major hurdle.

Who’s going to play?

Ten eligible players over the last two months have pulled out of the Olympics, six of them specifically citing concerns about the Zika virus. The last week alone was particularly devastating to a sport wanting to make a good impression after being gone from the games for 112 years.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion with the broadest global appeal among young stars, was the most prominent player to withdraw. That was until Tuesday when Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, said he would not be going. Shane Lowry and Branden Grace are planning to start families and will stay home because of Zika.

That’s four players from the top 25 who won’t be in Rio, and dread that more might follow.

One of them might be Jordan Spieth, who described his Olympic position Tuesday as “uncertain.”

“I’ve always been excited about the possible opportunity, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going. It’s not just one, there’s quite a few factors,” Spieth said, mentioning Zika, security and reports of violence.

The International Golf Federation stopped responding to each withdrawal because it was repeating the same statement: It is disappointed, but understands that each player has to decide on his own.

“Unfortunately with what’s going on with Brazil and Rio with the Zika virus, there’s a small chance it could happen, and I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having,” Day said.

While the sport is assured a spot in 2020 in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee will vote next year to decide if golf stays longer than that. And it doesn’t help when there’s an All-Star roster of players who won’t be there for whatever reasons.

Because countries are limited to two players (a maximum of four if they are among the top 15), only 18 players from the top 50 will be in Rio – as of Tuesday.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon, who has been involved in nine Olympics, believes golf still can put on a good show.

“We gave a commitment to have the best players there,” Scanlon said. “The decision they’re making are personal. We can’t make those decisions for them. All you can do is understand the decision they’re making. After the games, we’ll have two worthy champions, gold medalists that history will look back on. When the IOC members come to the venue, they’re going to have a great time. They’ll experience a sport where you can get close to the players and see their passion and determination.

“All we can do is make sure we deliver a great event.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

When golf made its pitch to get back into the Olympics for the first time since St. Louis in 1904, the IGF presented video support from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and other top players who offered enthusiasm and unconditional support for Olympic competition.

That was in 2009, before Brazil was devastated by political corruption and an economic meltdown, before concerns over polluted water and whether Rio could provide adequate security. And that was before Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit by the outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults. Charl Schwartzel and Lowry said if the Olympics were anywhere else, they would be there.

“The Olympic committee has to look at this and go, ‘Look, it was a weird situation, so don’t penalize golf because of a weird situation,'” Bubba Watson said.

But is it as simple as blaming it on Rio?

No women eligible for the Olympics have dropped out, and they would seem to be at greater risk from Zika. Then again, the women do not have the chance to play on a big stage like the Olympics. All three of their U.S. majors are held the week before the men’s majors and often get lost in coverage.

The perception is that Zika is an easy way out from going to South America for an Olympic competition that has little history behind it in golf. And the leading organizations did themselves no favors by cramming their biggest events into the summer ahead of the games. The final two majors, the British Open and PGA Championship, will be held in the month before the competition in Rio.

After the Olympics, PGA Tour players go right into the lucrative FedEx Cup, and then for Americans and Europeans, it’s off to the Ryder Cup and its flag-waving fervor.

“Other athletes have been training four and eight years to go to the Olympics. I can see why they’re going because it’s the pinnacle of their sport,” Lowry said. “It’s not the pinnacle of golf yet. It could be in 20 years’ time. But it’s not like winning the U.S. Open or winning the Masters or playing in the Ryder Cup.”

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Jason Day, Shane Lowry skip Olympics due to Zika virus

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Jason Day pulled out of the Olympics on Tuesday because of the Zika virus, costing golf its No. 1 player as it returns from a century-long absence at the games.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry, the U.S. Open co-runner-up and world No. 25, also withdrew Tuesday due to Zika.

The sport has lost two of its biggest stars in the last week, adding to the perception that the Olympics are not a high priority. Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion, also said Zika will keep from competing in Rio de Janeiro.

“The sole reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family,” Day said in a statement. “I have always placed my family in front of everything else in my life.”

Day and his wife, Ellie, had their second child in November, and he has said they want more children.

Day and Lowry are the fifth and sixth golfers to specifically cite Zika for not going to Rio. The others are McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Marc Leishman, whose wife’s immune system has not fully recovered after she nearly died last year of toxic shock syndrome.

American cyclist Tejay van Garderen is among a handful of athletes outside of golf who also cited Zika as the reason behind not going to Rio. Basketball star Stephen Curry didn’t specifically cite Zika but noted that “other factors” played a role in his decision to skip the games.

Brazil has been the hardest hit of the approximately 60 countries that have reported an outbreak of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.

Day first expressed concern a month ago at the Memorial and said he had been consulting doctors so he could make a smart choice.

“Medical experts have confirmed that while perhaps slight, a decision to compete in Rio absolutely comes with health risks to me and to my family,” Day said. “While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family. I will not place them at risk. … I hope all golf and Olympics fans respect and understand my position.”

Australia has three players in the top 50 in the world, and all of them have withdrawn — Day, Adam Scott (No. 8) and Leishman (No. 39). Next in line would be Scott Hend (No. 75) and Marcus Fraser (No. 81).

Day had been among the strongest proponents of competing in the Olympics, as had McIlroy and other young stars. But as the July 11 deadline nears for qualifying for Rio, some top golfers have been wavering.

Among the stars who plan to play or have not decided are Jordan Spieth, U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson of Sweden and Masters champion Danny Willett of England.

Golf already has lost three of the top 10 players in the world. Scott was the first to withdraw. He said Olympics were never his priority in a year in which the schedule is crammed with major championships with far more historical significant than an Olympic medal.

The sport has not been part of the Games since 1904 in St. Louis.

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa cited scheduling concerns when he withdrew. Vijay Singh of Fiji briefly mentioned Zika but was more bothered by the schedule. Graeme McDowell, who was in line to replace McIlroy, withdrew late last week because his wife is due with their second child a few weeks after the Olympics and he did not want to be out of the country in the weeks leading to the birth.

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