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Phil Mickelson would be going to Olympics if cutoff was this week

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If the cutoff for golfers to qualify for the Rio Olympics were today, instead of a week ago, Phil Mickelson would be in. And he would actually go.

He and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson – who has committed to Rio, and as of now will be the highest-ranked male there – engaged in a classic duel Sunday at the British Open. Stenson collected his first career major with a three-shot victory over Mickelson, who was an incredible 11 shots better than the third-place finisher.

Watch highlights of their final round here.

Yet what a storyline it would have been if Olympic qualification was also hanging in the balance for Mickelson. The 46-year-old entered the week at 19th in the world rankings, and eighth among Americans.

But with his runner-up finish (the 11th of his career in a major), he jumped six spots to 13th in the world rankings, and fifth among Americans. A nation could send four golfers to the Olympics provided they all ranked within the world’s top 15, and though Mickelson is fifth in his country, he would have actually been third considering the withdrawals of the top two Americans, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

And we know Mickelson wouldn’t have added his name to the long list of withdrawals because he’s been one of the biggest proponents of Olympic golf ever since the concept was formed.

Two months ago he said this: “If I can play well in the next two months and somehow get on the team, what a great opportunity to compete in the Olympics,” adding later, “The family would come down with me to Rio if I were able to make it.”

Two years ago he said this: “I don’t know why it’s so important to me but it is. I want to be a 46-year-old Olympian.”

Well, his first Olympic bid may have come up short, but he’ll try again. He has said he wants to compete in the 2020 Olympics, when he’ll be a half-century old.

Mickelson boasted to ESPN’s Rick Reilly when asked about a comment he made regarding getting better with age.

“Let me get this straight,” Reilly said. “From age 43 to age 48, you’re going to play the best golf of your life?”

“I think so,” Mickelson said. “I’m going to win a bunch of tournaments. I’m going to win at least one U.S. Open (the only major he has yet to claim), maybe two. And I’m going to make the 2016 Olympic team. And really, I’d love to make the 2020 Olympic team. I’d be 50. How cool would that be?”

He missed the 2016 team by a week, but a 50-year-old on the 2020 squad would be very cool.

MORE: IOC will evaluate absence of top male golfers after Rio

Masters could be pivotal for Phil Mickelson’s Olympic hopes

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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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Tiger Woods’ ranking drop brings up Olympic question

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Tiger Woods has fallen outside the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in nearly three years, increasing scrutiny as he tries to qualify for the Olympics over the next 20 months.

Woods, who will be 40 years old during the Rio 2016 Olympics, is No. 23 in this week’s rankings. He hasn’t played since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August.

Woods took a break to rest an injured back and expects to return to competition in December, though he won’t play a PGA Tour event until January at the earliest.

For Woods to qualify for the Rio Olympics, he will likely have to be in the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking on July 11, 2016, and definitely be among the top four ranked U.S. men.

If the Olympic golf field was chosen based on today’s rankings, the last American to qualify would be Matt Kuchar, who is ranked 10th overall and fourth among Americans.

Woods is currently the 13th-highest ranked American.

Rankings points are accumulated over a rolling two-year period, where the most recent results and the strongest tournaments are weighted heaviest.

Given that, today’s rankings mean very little in the Olympic picture, because only results since the British Open in July will go into determining the Olympic qualification rankings (and the results so far will be weighted lightest come 2016).

Still, Woods is off to an extremely slow start in Olympic qualification. His only completed tournament during the Olympic qualification window so far was the British Open, where he finished 69th.

Look at Phil Mickelson for a comparison. Mickelson, ranked one spot behind Kuchar, would also not make the U.S. Olympic team if chosen based on today’s rankings.

But Mickelson finished second at the PGA Championship in August, tied for 23rd at the British Open in July and tied for 15th at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in August. He is off to a vastly better start than Woods in the Olympic qualification window.

Several years ago, Woods and Mickelson were part of golf’s “Big Four.” Interestingly enough, two members of the Big Four would make the Olympic golf field if chosen today.

That would be Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, who are ranked No. 53 and No. 241, respectively. Els is the second-highest ranked South African, and Singh is the only Fijian in the top 1,000.

The Olympic golf field of 60 can include no more than two players per nation once past the top 15 in rankings. It will likely dip into the 300s in rankings to complete the field.

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