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Brazil has honours in golf's historic return

2016-08-08 20:28

Rio de Janeiro - Local boy Adilson da Silva will strike the first tee shot as Rio Games host Brazil takes honours on golf's historic return to the Olympics this week after 112 years.

The Brazilian golfer will lead the milestone first flight out along with Canada's Graham Delaet and South Korea's An Byeong-Hun, according to groupings released on Monday.

The four-day men's individual stroke play starts Thursday, golf's first Olympic appearance since Canada's George Lyon won gold at the 1904 Games in St. Louis.

"We are absolutely delighted to be here in Rio and to be returning to the Olympic Games after a very long absence of 112 years," said Peter Dawson, head of the International Golf Federation (IGF).

Other notable pairings include long-hitting American two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson, past Major winner Martin Kaymer of Germany, and rising Asian force Anirban Lahiri.

American Rickie Fowler will tee off with Britain's 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose, while world number four and newly crowned British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden -- the top-ranked player in the field -- heads Thursday's final group.

Two days after the men conclude on Sunday at the Campo Olimpico de Golfe venue, the world's top women tee off for the first time in 116 years. Their pairings will be released next week.

Forty-one different nationalities from every continent are represented, with 60 golfers in each field competing in stroke play.

The run-up to the competition has been dominated by the withdrawal of the world's top four golfers, Jason Day of Australia, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, with most citing concerns over the zika virus.

The women's field, however, has seen no such pullouts.

Golf officials stressed that both fields remain strong.

"At the end of the day we still have, I think, eight of the top 15 men and all of the women virtually, so we are going to have two very good weeks of competition," said Ty Votaw, the IGF's vice-president.

The breezy and tree-less par-71 Gil Hanse-designed course was created from the swampy Marapendi Lagoon, site of a sand-mining operation that had degraded the landscape.

Organisers tout its environmental bona fides, saying only native vegetation was used and that the project has rejuvenated indigenous flora and fauna.

Wildlife that may be seen include the capybara -- a giant rodent species -- monkeys, three-toed sloths, burrowing owls and boa constrictors.

After the games, it will remain a public facility for at least 20 years as officials seek to grow the game in a soccer-mad country where golf is yet to take hold.

Officials say Brazil has just 110 golf courses compared to 15,372 on American soil as of 2015.

The venue will feature a "Fan Zone" where spectators can receive lessons from instructors and try their swing on simulators and a 6-hole putting course.

"Growing the game has indeed already begun but we start in earnest on Thursday," Dawson said.

Officials said 58 percent of tickets had been sold so far, including a sellout for the men's final round on Sunday.

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