PGA Tour

John Deere hits snag in Olympic year

2016-08-11 10:25
Zach Johnson (AFP)

Los Angeles - The return of golf to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years and the absence of defending champ Jordan Spieth leaves this week's John Deere Classic with a tractor-size headache.

Americans Zach Johnson and Kevin Na are the only golfers in the top 50 in the field while third-ranked Spieth is a no-show.

Spieth earned a spot in the Rio Games, but decided to take a pass. He said he would also not defend his title at the $4.8 million John Deere event.

"I don't think it would be an appropriate move to play that week," he said last month. "I don't think it would be appropriate given our decision on the Olympics."

Johnson, who won the event in 2012, was one shot away from joining Spieth and Tom Gillis in a playoff last year. Spieth beat Gillis to win his second John Deere crown.

Very few of the world's top players are in the 152-man field that will tee up on Thursday at the Deere Run course in Silvis, Illinois.

The Olympics prompted a change in the USPGA Tour schedule that pushed the John Deere to August. The PGA Championship was also given a new time slot in July so it wouldn't clash with the Games.

Johnson said that even if he had qualified for Rio, he would have sided with Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and skipped it.

The Olympics are for "athletes who strive for the Olympics and crave it. I crave to watch it," said Johnson, who is ranked 22nd in the world.

Johnson told an American radio show host earlier this week that he considers the Ryder Cup to be the Olympics of golf.

"I would rather be on that team more than anything in my career at this point," he said.

Johnson will get an opportunity to further that goal this week as he is currently in sixth place in points for the USA team. The top eight American players automatically make the team when the August 28 deadline is reached.

US captain Davis Love will add four more picks for the Ryder Cup, which runs from September 30 to October 2 at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

World No 34 Na and former major winners Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy and Keegan Bradley are also in the field this week.

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