By Liana B. Baker
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The U.S. men’s golf team are hoping for a sweep of the medals as they prepare to encounter a variety of wildlife as well as windy conditions that could make the sport’s return to the Olympics after 112 years a high-scoring contest.
While Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar all arrived in Rio on Monday after competing at the Travelers Championship in the United States, Rickie Fowler has been in the city for several days and has played the course twice.
“It’s all about what the wind does,” Fowler said on Tuesday at a news conference. “I was playing on Sunday and had to basically stop playing because the wind was blowing so hard from the wrong direction.
“If winds pick up, shooting even par on the course will be nice,” he said.
Par on the Olympic golf course is 71.
The course designer, Gil Hanse, has said the lack of trees promote wind movement and if Rio has its typical windy August conditions the course will provide a really tough challenge.
Fowler has seen a lot of wildlife on the course, which faced a land dispute and environmental challenges before the Games.
He said the exotic capybara rodent was a “decent size animal” that he would try to avoid but he was more concerned about caimans, a kind of alligator.
“We’re not used to seeing caimans. Hopefully we don’t have any encounters,” he added.
Several leading golfers have pulled out of the Olympics because of fears over the Zika virus, including the world’s top four — Australia’s Jason Day, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth plus Irishman Rory McIlroy.
But despite the high-profile withdrawals, the Americans still fancy their chances especially as they have the most players in the tournament thanks to the qualifying rules that favored golfers ranked in the top 15 in the world.
“It’s a strong field. But we’re the only country with a chance for a podium sweep,” said Fowler.
The Americans have four players competing in the tournament compared with their rivals who have a maximum of two.
Fowler said the opponents to watch out for were Britain’s Justin Rose, Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, Germany’s Martin Kaymer and the Spaniards, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The men’s event runs from Aug. 11-14 with a field of 60 competing over 72 holes and the top three claiming the medals.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Ken Ferris)