Patrick Cantlay claimed the $15million FedEx Cup play-offs after withstanding world number one Jon Rahm at the Tour Championship.

Cantlay earned a mammoth payday at East Lake, where the American outlasted Rahm by just one stroke at the PGA Tour's season-ending event on Sunday.

Last week, Cantlay defeated Bryson DeChambeau in a thrilling six-hole play-off to ensure he would start the Tour Championship as the leader at 10 under per the new FedEx Cup format.

Spanish star Rahm entered the event four strokes adrift but his flawless two-under-par 66 in the final round set up a nervy finish in Atlanta, Georgia.

However, Cantlay – who teed off with a two-shot advantage at the start of the final day – weathered his own nerves late on, birdieing two of his final three holes to hold off Rahm, having opened the door following a bogey on the 17th.


Cantlay had a one-stroke lead going to the par-five 18th hole and hit a clutch six-iron from 218 yards to within just 12 feet to secure a dramatic wire-to-wire victory and the biggest triumph of the 29-year-old's career.

He is now in contention for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award following his fourth victory of the season – no player has more trophies in 2020-21.

"It was tough, it definitely felt different than any other week. It was the longest lead I've ever held," Cantlay said afterwards.

"I tried to stay in the present day after day and I did an amazing job of that this week. I made a couple of mistakes I wouldn't normally make and was able to centre myself when I really needed to."

Kevin Na (67) finished third at 16 under as 2017 FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas (70) ended the tournament a shot further back.

Xander Schauffele – tied for fifth alongside Viktor Hovland (70) – birdied five of his final six holes en route to a six-under-par 64 for his 20th consecutive round of even par or better at East Lake.

DeChambeau closed with a final-round 66 to earn sole possession of seventh place at 13 under, while defending Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winner Dustin Johnson was two strokes further back after a three-under-par 67.

Two-time champion Rory McIlroy (67) had to settle for a share of 14th spot – 14 strokes adrift of Cantlay.

FedEx Cup leader Patrick Cantlay remains in the box seat after extending his lead at the Tour Championship to two shots after the third day in Georgia on Saturday.

Cantlay, who started the week at 10-under par as part of the new format, birdied the 18th hole to finish with a three-under round of 67 to be 20-under at East Lake Golf Club.

The 29-year-old American moved two shots clear of 2021 U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm, who had one bogey and three birdies in his round of two-under-68.

Cantlay had a dramatic round, after making three birdies on his front nine to move four strokes ahead, before he stumbled with three bogeys in six holes on his back nine, around three more birdies.

The BMW Championship winner holed a 23-foot putt on the 18th for birdie to restore the lead he held at the start of the week.

"I thought it was big for momentum," Cantlay told reporters after his birdie on the 18th. "It was a nice putt to make, especially being out of position on that hole. I'll take that momentum into tomorrow."

Cantlay is the only player to win three titles during the 2020-21 PGA Tour and remained confident he could close out the victory despite the inflated magnitude of what is at stake, with $15million prize money for the FedEx Cup Playoffs winner.

"The internal drive to win golf tournaments is really what drives me, and so the external factors are not as much of a factor for me," he said.

"I'm going to feel similar to how I feel most any Sunday when I'm coming down the stretch for a golf tournament because my drive to win is strong inside me. The other stuff is just a consequence of that. I don't play the game to make money. I play the game because I want to win golf tournaments."

Americans Justin Thomas and Kevin Na are next best at 15 under and 13 under respectively, ahead of Abraham Ancer and Billy Horschel at 10 under.

Thomas and Ancer both carded top rounds of five-under-65 on Saturday to move up the standings, while world number seven Bryson DeChambeau is nine under after a two-over-72.

Thomas would have recorded his first career bogey-free round at East Lake, if he had not missed a six-foot putt for par on the 18th.

World number two and reigning Tour Championship winner Dustin Johnson moved up to eight under with a two-under-68.

Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Xander Schauffele carded three under to also be eight under, alongside Jordan Spieth and Johnson.

Brooks Koepka announced his withdrawal from the Tour Championship, citing a left wrist injury.

FedEx Cup leader Patrick Cantlay ended the opening round of the Tour Championship two shots clear of world number one Jon Rahm in the season finale. 

Cantlay arrived at East Lake top of the FedEx Cup standings following his thrilling six-hole BMW Championship play-off victory against Bryson DeChambeau last week. 

Under the new FedEx Cup play-off format, Cantlay's third PGA Tour title of the season ensured he started the 30-man Tour Championship with a two-stroke advantage at 10 under, ahead of Tony Finau. 

Cantlay maintained that lead on Thursday thanks to a three-under-par 67 at the lucrative season-ending event in Atlanta, Georgia. 

The American golfer birdied the last to finish with four in total for the day, having dropped a shot at the fifth during his front nine. 

FedEx Cup hopeful Rahm matched the round of the day with his five-under-par 65 – the Spanish star recording birdies at his final two holes to earn outright second position, ahead of Harris English (66) and DeChambeau (69) at eight under. 

English had a day to remember after his hole-in-one at the par-three 15th hole, the American's second on the PGA Tour and first since 2018. 

With his ace-birdie-birdie run from the 15th to 17th, English – seventh in the rankings – became the first player to cover that stretch of three holes in four-under par in a round at East Lake during the Tour Championship. 

DeChambeau teed off in third position, three strokes adrift of Cantlay, and the 2020 U.S. Open champion slipped five shots back after mixing five birdies with four bogeys. 

Viktor Hovland (66), Cameron Smith (68) and 2017 FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas (67) are on seven under, and six strokes off the pace, a shot better off than Kevin Na (66) and Finau (72). 

Defending FedEx Cup and Tour Championship winner Dustin Johnson ended the first day at five under following his opening-round 68, alongside Brooks Koepka (67), 2015 FedEx Cup champion Jordan Spieth (69), Abraham Ancer (69), Louis Oosthuizen (68), Jason Kokrak (67) and Billy Horschel (65). 

Rory McIlroy – a two-time FedEx Cup and Tour championship winner – made a hot start but faded in a two-under-par-round of 68. 

McIlroy was flawless with three birdies on the front nine, however, three bogeys to go with two birdies after the turn left the former world number one nine strokes behind Cantlay. 

Patrick Cantlay outlasted Bryson DeChambeau in a thrilling six-hole play-off to win the BMW Championship and secure the FedEx Cup lead heading into the season-ending Tour Championship.

In an absorbing battle for pole position in the finale of golf's lucrative FedEx Cup play-offs race, Cantlay birdied the sixth sudden-death hole to upstage DeChambeau in Maryland on Sunday.

Cantlay (66) had drained a long-range birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a play-off with DeChambeau (66) after the pair finished 27 under through regulation at Caves Valley Golf Club.

The duo traded clutch putt after clutch putt in the play-off before Cantlay prevailed, becoming the only player with three victories on the PGA Tour this season.

Cantlay will now head to East Lake as the FedEx Cup play-offs leader – the American will start the 30-man Tour Championship 10 under, while DeChambeau will begin seven under in third, a stroke behind second-placed Tony Finau.

The win also marked the first 54-hole leader/co-leader to go on to win on Tour since Phil Mickelson at the US PGA Championship – a span of 14 events.

"I just tried to stay in my own little world. When the reporters asked me this week, 'Are they going to get to 30-under?' I didn't think so but I felt like it today," said Cantlay.

"My game feels really good, it has for a while now since the Memorial. I'm finally starting to putt like me again and it's really nice."

The final round started with Cantlay and DeChambeau tied for the three-stroke lead and the pair extended that advantage to four shots by the end of 72 holes, ahead of Im Sung-jae (67).

Rory McIlroy – a two-time Tour Championship winner and two-time FedEx Cup champion – carded a final-round five-under-par 67 to finish outright fourth at 22 under.

The former world number one will be seeded 16th for Thursday's decisive event.

Reigning FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson (66) – 15th in the rankings – finished in a tie for sixth alongside Sergio Garcia (69), a shot behind Erik van Rooyen (65).

World number one and FedEx Cup hopeful Jon Rahm will start the Tour Championship in fourth position, dropping two spots, following his two-under-par 70.

Alex Noren (66) and Abraham Ancer (71) closed out the event 18 under, though the former still missed out on a top-30 berth at East Lake.

Justin Thomas (66) – sixth in the rankings – and Brooks Koepka (68) – 20th in the standings – finished 13 shots off the pace.

Bryson DeChambeau endured a wild third round, but the FedEx Cup play-off hopeful still ended the day tied for the lead alongside Patrick Cantlay at the BMW Championship.

DeChambeau carded a five-under-par 67 to earn a share of the three-stroke lead through 54 holes at the second FedEx Cup play-off tournament on Saturday.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion's round had a little bit of everything, from back-to-back eagles to back-to-back shots in the water at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland.

DeChambeau was flawless on the front nine, mixing two eagles and as many birdies as he turned a one-shot deficit into a three-stroke lead within two holes.

The 27-year-old is the fourth player to make back-to-back eagles this PGA Tour season, while he is only second to Cam Davis (20) for most eagles (19).

Just as DeChambeau threatened to run away from the field, the big-hitting American stumbled, settling for a share of top spot after finding the water at the par-five 12th hole (bogey) and par-three 13th (double bogey).

"It was definitely colourful," DeChambeau – projected to be second in the FedEx Cup points race – told PGA Tour radio. "Thought I played pretty well the front nine, did mis-hit a drive on seven.

"Felt weird. From then on out I wasn't driving it very well, so that's what I'm going to do, work on that for tomorrow. If I can get that straightened out like I did the first few days, off the tee the first couple holes today, I mean, I'll give myself a great chance again."

Cantlay – the current FedEx Cup leader – is also 21 under heading into Sunday's final round following his six-under-par 66.

He was almost bogey-free on day three, holing an eagle and five birdies before bogeying the last.

Im Sung-jae is the nearest challenger after his third-round 66, while Rory McIlroy (65), Abraham Ancer (66), Sam Burns (65) and Sergio Garcia (67) are tied for fourth at 17 under.

World number one and defending champion Jon Rahm lost ground, dropping to outright eighth – five shots back – after a two-under-par 67.

FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson posted a seven-under-par 65 to be 14 under, while Brooks Koepka (69) ended the day a further four shots behind – two strokes better off than Justin Thomas (69).

Jon Rahm credited "Ted Lasso" for his magnificent display in the opening round of the BMW Championship as the world number one and defending tournament champion earned a share of the three-way lead.

Rahm carded a flawless eight-under-par 64 to top the leaderboard by one shot alongside fellow star Rory McIlroy and Sam Burns in the second PGA Tour FedEx Cup play-off event in Maryland, Baltimore on Thursday.

At The Northern Trust, Rahm appeared on track to claim the opening FedEx Cup tournament before fizzling out as the Spaniard fell short of a play-off in Monday's finish at Liberty National.

Rahm, however, bounced back at Caves Valley Golf Club, where he invoked the "Ted Lasso" mentality – the star character of the popular television show featuring Jason Sudeikis.

"I must say, for all those 'Ted Lasso' fans out there, be a goldfish," Rahm – second in the FedEx Cup rankings – said post-round after holing eight birdies without dropping a shot. "If you haven't seen the show, you've just got to check it out.

"Played great golf last week, just a couple bad swings down the stretch, and that's the most important thing to remember."

Former world number one McIlroy, who lamented fatigue prior to Thursday's first round, opened his BMW Championship campaign with an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey.

The 2016 and 2019 FedEx Cup champion enjoyed a bogey-free front nine, highlighted by the Northern Irishman's four birdies.

Burns, like Rahm, made it through 18 holes without dropping a shot as the American tallied eight birdies, including four in a row from the 11th to the 14th.

In a 70-man field, reduced from the top 125 points leaders at The Northern Trust, Sergio Garcia is one stroke adrift of the trio, while Abraham Ancer and Patrick Cantlay – fourth in the rankings – are six under.

FedEx Cup champion and three-time tournament winner Dustin Johnson ended the day five under following his first-round 67, alongside the likes of points leader Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Masters holder Hideki Matsuyama.

Cameron Smith, who lost to Finau in Monday's Northern Trust play-off, is four shots behind the leaders and he is joined by Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and 2017 FedEx Cup winner Justin Thomas.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka posted a two-under-par 70, while Jordan Spieth shot a 71.

Tony Finau ended his five-year wait for a trophy after winning The Northern Trust in a play-off against Cameron Smith.

The final round of The Northern Trust – the first of three FedEx Cup play-off tournaments – was pushed back to Monday after Hurricane Henri ruined the possibility of a Sunday finish in New Jersey.

Finau was not to be denied, however, as the surging American produced a comeback to capture his first PGA Tour title since 2016 with a par on the first extra hole after Smith drove out of bounds.

Trailing world number one Jon Rahm and Smith by two strokes entering the final round, Finau hunted down the duo thanks to a six-under-par 65 at Liberty National.

Finau got hot on the back nine, with an eagle and three birdies within a five-hole stretch catapulting him to the top of the leaderboard, alongside Australian Smith (67) at 20 under at the end of regulation.

Rahm missed out on a play-off following his final-round 69, which left him two strokes off the pace.

Finau is now projected to go top of the FedEx Cup leaderboard, ahead of Rahm and Smith heading into the BMW Championship, which will consist of a 70-man field.

"It feels amazing," Finau said after winning 1,975 days and 143 starts after his first victory at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. "It took just about everything I had. We got to number 10 and I knew I had to get to 20-under, that was my goal starting the day.

"My caddy Mark said let's turn in the best nine we've had all week, and I was able to do it.

"I hit some clutch shots on 18, that's a tough golf hole. Man, I just fought and its pretty cool to be standing here again winning a golf tournament."

The PGA Tour has seen 14 consecutive events won by players that trailed after each of the first three rounds. The last player to lead following any round and go on to win was Phil Mickelson at the 2021 US PGA Championship.

American star and 2017 FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas (70) finished tied for fourth – five strokes off the pace, while Bryson DeChambeau was five shots further back following his three-under-par 68 alongside rival and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka (74).

Former world number one and 2019 FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy ended the tournament seven under through 72 holes as Jordan Spieth's forgettable eight-over-par 79 left him one over for the tournament and in 74th position.

Australian Cameron Smith set a course record with a stunning 11-under-par 60 to claim a share of the lead alongside Jon Rahm at the Northern Trust on Saturday.

Smith missed a birdie putt on the 18th hole which would have seen him register a rare sub-60 score as well as taking the outright lead following a round which included 11 birdies at Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey.

The missed 12-foot putt meant the 28-year-old Australian missed out on posting only the 13th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history.

"I actually thought it was going to kind of stay straight and then drop a little bit right there at the end off the bunker and just didn't do it," Smith said about his 18th hole putt.

"I haven't been in that situation before. It was completely new to me. I just tried to get up there and do what I did the rest of the day, hit a good drive, and my driver definitely put me in that spot today for all those birdies.

"It's been a bit of a rough trot with the driver of late. I felt like it's got away from me a little bit, and it was nice to see a lot of drives, a lot of good drives today."

Smith, who revealed he started to think posting 59 was realistic after he birdied the 14th hole, hit 11 of 14 fairways in his round.

He will resume in the equal lead with 2021 U.S. Open winner Rahm on Monday with Sunday's play postponed due to projected path of Tropical Storm Henri.

Rahm had been the outright leader heading into the third day, one stroke ahead of Tony Finau, but after four birdies on the front nine the Spaniard carded a third round four-under-par 67.

The 26-year-old was thwarted by a double bogey on the 13th hole, ending his bogey-free streak, along with a bogey on the 16th, before finishing with a birdie and a terrific par save.

Erik van Rooyen also stormed up the leaderboard with a nine-under-62 to move one shot behind the joint leaders. After bogeying the first, the South African posted 10 birdies in his round.

Justin Thomas and Finau are tied for fourth at 14 under, with Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland and Tom Hoge a further stroke behind them.

Jordan Spieth was the major slider after carding a one-over-par 72 to drop to seven under overall, seven shots off the pace. Bryson DeChambeau also had a one-over round with four bogeys, to be five under.

Jon Rahm claimed the outright lead following the second round of The Northern Trust, but the world number one was not completely happy as he voiced his frustration with the FedEx Cup play-offs format.

Rahm carded a four-under-par 67 for a one-stroke advantage at the halfway stage of the opening FedEx Cup play-offs tournament on Friday.

In a tie with Justin Thomas for the three-shot lead following Thursday's round, Spanish star Rahm ended day two alone atop the leaderboard at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, where the top 125 players are competing.

Rahm – fifth in the FedEx Cup rankings heading into the first of three play-off events – has his fifth career second-round lead/co-lead on the PGA Tour, and third of the season.

He is yet to make a bogey through two rounds – it is the first time in Rahm's PGA Tour career that he has played the first 36 holes without a bogey (110th start).

Rahm, though, was irked at the end of play as he discussed the FedEx Cup format, which sees only one winner of the season-ending Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, having previously seen the possibility of separate champions.

"I don't think it's fair," Rahm said post-round. "I don't like that at all. No. I think you have the play-offs itself, and if you win the first two and if you don't play good in the last one ... you can end up with a really bad finish.

"I don't like it. I understand the system. And the way I was told by one of the PGA Tour officials, [if] I'm a Patriots fans and the Patriots win everything to get to the Super Bowl and they don't win the Super Bowl, you don't win the Lombardi Trophy, right?

"My answer was, they still finished second. They have to understand that golf is different. You could win 15 events, including both play-offs events, and [under the current system implemented last year] you have a two-shot lead. I understand it's for TV purposes and excitement and just making it more of a winner-take-all, and they give you a two-shot advantage, but over four days that can be gone in two holes, right."

Tony Finau's second-round 64 earned second position at 11 under, a shot better off than 2017 FedEx Cup champion Thomas (69), Keith Mitchell (64) and Xander Schauffele (62).

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka (64) and former world number one Jordan Spieth (62) – second in the rankings – are four strokes off the pace, while Bryson DeChambeau is two strokes further back following his 65.

Rory McIlroy – the 2019 FedEx Cup winner – narrowly avoided the cut at one under following his 70, but defending tournament champion and FedEx Cup holder Dustin Johnson (72) failed to qualify the weekend alongside Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson.

Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas fired eight-under-par 63s to share the three-stroke lead after the opening round of the Northern Trust.

The 2021 FedEx Cup play-offs got underway at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, with the top 125 players eligible to play the PGA Tour event on Thursday.

World number one Rahm (fifth) and 2017 FedEx Cup champion Thomas (ninth) – both in the regular-season top-10 rankings – set the early pace to end day one ahead of nearest rival Harold Varner III.

Rahm was flawless through 18 holes, recording eight birdies, including four of his last six, without dropping a shot, while Thomas birdied four of his last five holes to be level atop the standings.

It is the second time this season Rahm and Thomas have been tied for the lead following a round – both were T1 after day two of the 2020 Masters.

"It probably felt a lot tougher within us than it appeared outside, but at the end of the day, when you're striking it well, it's going to seem easier," Rahm said after enduring gusty conditions. "Scores are out there. We just showed it. That's mainly due to the fact of the softness of the greens."

Thomas holds his third 18-hole lead/co-lead of the season, tied with Sebastian Munoz for the most on Tour.

"It was nice to play well out there in those conditions," Thomas said. "It was very windy, which makes it tough to get the ball close to the hole.

"I had an eight to 10 inch [20-25 cm] putt I almost missed because of a wind gust. I stayed committed to every shot."

Adam Scott, Robert Streb, Mackenzie Hughes, Cameron Tringale, Tony Finau and Kevin Na are tied for fourth, four shots behind the leading duo, while Patrick Cantlay – third in the FedEx Cup standings – is a stroke further back.

Defending tournament and play-off champion Dustin Johnson ended the day seven shots off the pace after mixing four birdies with three bogeys.

Johnson played his round without a driver in his bag, having noticed a small crack in his club, though the American star did not have a backup.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka also shot a 70, while 2019 FedEx Cup winner Rory McIlroy settled for an even-par 71 alongside 2018 Northern Trust champion Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau became the fourth player on record (since 1983) to make two or fewer pars and record a score of even-par or better on the PGA TOUR – Jarrod Lyle was the most recent to do so via his two-under 69 (two pars) at the 2011 John Deere Classic.

Former world number one and 2015 FedEx Cup winner Jordan Spieth – second in the rankings – shot a 72 as six-time major champion Phil Mickelson ended the round two over.

Harris English heads into the weekend at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational with a two-stroke lead after maintaining his spot atop the leaderboard Friday.

The American followed Thursday's 62 with a five-under-par 65 at TPC Southwind, where he won his first PGA Tour title eight years ago. 

Australia's Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer of Mexico surged into a tie for second place after carding 62s of their own in Memphis to sit at 11 under for the tournament.

Ian Poulter (66), Scottie Scheffler (65) and Sam Burns (64) are three back of the lead at 10 under, while Louis Oosthuizen (64) and Bryson DeChambeau (66) are well within striking distance at nine under. 

English started on the back nine and made three birdies going out before carding his first and only bogey of the day at the par-four second hole. But he managed to follow that disappointment with an eagle on the third before adding one more birdie later in his round.

Smith also eagled the third on the way to tying a PGA Tour record, as he needed just 18 putts to complete his bogey-free round. 

That included a two-put at the last, not long after Smith figured out he was on the verge of history. 

"I was walking down 17 and was counting my putts up and I thought, 'No, that can't be right,'" Smith said. 

Further down the leaderboard, defending champion Justin Thomas (67) is seven strokes back of the lead at six under along with two-time major winner Dustin Johnson (65).

Phil Mickelson (66) is at five under, whie Hideki Matsuyama (69) and Patrick Reed (69) are well back at three under. 

Rory McIlroy (66), Sergio Garcia (68), and Collin Morikawa (71) are at two under, one stroke better than Brooks Koepka (69). 

Jordan Spieth (69) enters the weekend at even par and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele (73) is at two over. 

Harris English won his first PGA Tour title at TPC Southwind eight years ago, and he has another triumph in his sights after opening with a 62 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. 

The American has a two-stroke lead over four pursuers, as Ian Poulter, Carlos Ortiz, Jim Herman and Matthew Wolff carded six-under-par 64s Thursday in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Bryson DeChambeau, Scottie Scheffler and Marc Leishman were three shots back after shooting 65, with DeChambeau making his first start since missing the Tokyo Olympics following a positive COVID-19 test. 

Among the group two shots behind them at five under were defending champion Justin Thomas, Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa and the red-hot Louis Oosthuizen, who has top-three finishes in four of his last five starts.

Among other notables, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama are at two under, with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele at one under, and Brooks Kopeka and Sergio Garcia at even par.

Jordan Spieth is at one over and Rory McIlroy at two over, leaving him 62nd in the 66-player field. 

But they will all start Friday chasing English. The 32-year-old carded seven birdies on a blistering front nine, then faltered a bit with bogeys at 10 and 12 before closing his round with birdies at three of the last four holes. 

"It was one of those rounds where I was hitting it really good off the tee and making a lot of good putts," English told reporters. 

English won at Memphis in its previous incarnation as the Tour's St. Jude Classic in June 2013, then added another title that fall. 

That was his last PGA Tour win before this year, which has seen him take the Tournament of Champions in Maui in January and the Travelers Championship in June. 

 

 

Justin Thomas described being involved at the Tokyo Olympics as "the coolest thing I've ever been a part of" as he said taking the gold medal would be "the absolute ultimate".

Golf is being staged at the Games for just the fourth time ever and the second time since 1904, having returned to the schedule in Rio five years ago.

The field is not the strongest, with Bryson DeChambeau and world number one Jon Rahm pulling out with coronavirus, while Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia opted not to play and Brooks Koepka failed to qualify.

But many other big names will take part, including ​world number four Thomas, who won his only major at the US PGA Championship in 2017 and is among those targeting a medal at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

The United States are the only nation with more than two golfers taking part in the event and Thomas says the chance to win gold for his nation is what makes this event so unique.

"It might be the coolest thing I've been a part of. It's not very often where you get so excited about being a part of a tournament," he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"I really do truly think of Ryder Cups, majors, whatever it is, this is the coolest thing I've ever been a part of. It's unbelievable. Everyone is going to think differently about it.

"I know there's some people who don't think it's that big a deal and don't think it's that cool. 

"I don't know what it is but maybe it's just because being an Olympian, you're known as the best athlete in the world and it's something that golf isn't exactly always linked to."

Asked whether he would rather win a major championship or an Olympic medal, Thomas replied: "If I was going to choose, I'll take the major. 

"But this is something that would mean the absolute ultimate. It would just be the coolest thing to just be able to say not only did you play in it but that you won a gold medal.

"It's just so different. I've tried to compare it, I've tried to think about it.

"This is obviously more special because it's harder to win because you have less chances, but major championships change your life in more than one way."

Like Thomas, Ireland's Rory McIlroy will tee off at the Olympics for the first time when the delayed 2020 event gets up and running on Thursday.

Four-time major winner McIlroy sampled the the course on Tuesday and was impressed by the quality, though he is disappointed that no supporters will be in attendance this week.

"When Hideki [Matsuyama, of Japan] won the Masters, the first thing I thought of was how good is the atmosphere going to be at the Olympics," McIlroy said.

"Unfortunately, that's not the case. So yeah, it's tough.

"It's not the Olympic experience anyone dreams of having. I was even saying to Shane [Lowry] how good would it be to go and watch some of the other events this evening. 

"That's the unfortunate part about it, but there's three medals up for grabs, and we're all here trying to play for them."

McIlroy, who has been drawn with tournament favourite Collin Morikawa and South Korea's Sungjae Im, added: "The course itself is great. It's really, really nice.

"I've always been a big fan of Tom Fazio courses anyway. I'm trying to sort of think what I could compare it to back in the States, but it's a really fun golf course

"It's in great shape, obviously. It's immaculate. There's plenty of opportunities out there for birdies, but if you don't hit the fairways, the rough is pretty penal in spots."

Ireland's other representative in the men's golf tournament is Shane Lowry, who is ranked 40th in the world but is eager to challenge for a top-three finish.

"What people don't understand is we don't win too many medals," he said. "So I think it would be huge for me and huge for the country.

"Obviously it's going to take a lot of good golf. It's going to take something special this week. But it would mean an awful lot to me."

After an enforced absence in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Open is thankfully back on this year's golf calendar.

Royal St George's will host the 149th edition of the tournament, a welcome return to the Kent course that saw Darren Clarke triumph a decade ago.

Shane Lowry is the defending champion, having prevailed at Royal Portrush in 2019, but can he retain his crown? Will one of the big guns instead get their hands on the famous Claret Jug, or could another long shot follow in the footsteps of Ben Curtis, an unlikely champion at the venue back in 2003?

Ahead of the opening round, it is time to take a look at some of the players who could be in contention for glory in the final major of the year.

 

RAHM READY FOR OPEN CHALLENGE – Nicholas McGee

Jon Rahm has struggled to capture his best in four previous appearances at The Open, just one of which has seen him finish with an under-par score (-3 in 2019). However, only in 2018 has he missed the cut, and his blistering form in 2021 suggests he should be firmly in the mix this week.

His 11 top-10 finishes rank as the most on the PGA Tour this season. Rahm also leads the tour in scoring average (69.6) and in strokes gained (2.02 avg). Second in strokes gained tee to green and (1.82 avg) and fifth in greens in regulation (71 per cent), Rahm has displayed consistency that should lend itself to links golf. Further optimism came with a seventh-placed finish at the Scottish Open. The stage looks set for him to emphatically turn his Open fortunes around.

SPIETH HAS THE BELIEF – Russell Greaves

Jordan Spieth has three key things in his favour at this tournament: he's a man in form, he's exceptional with the putter, and he's won it before. The 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year has an overall putting average of 1.566 on the PGA Tour in 2021, placing him seventh in that metric.

That showing on the greens has laid the foundations for a year in which the 27-year-old has enjoyed eight top-10 finishes. He was in a tie for third at the Masters and boasts a career aggregate score of 21 under at the Open Championship, marking him down as a leading contender in Kent.

NO DOUBTING THOMAS AFTER RECENT RUN – Dan Lewis

Justin Thomas has struggled on the links in his career but ended up in a tie for eighth at the Scottish Open last week – his first top-10 finish since winning the Players Championship in March. He opened and closed with rounds of 65 at the Renaissance Club, where he used a new putter, and has not carded a bogey in his last 25 holes.

The 28-year-old may not be among the top group of contenders, but the 2017 US PGA Championship winner is certainly capable of carrying his momentum into this event to claim a second major in his career.

DUSTIN'S TIME TO HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT - Timothy Abraham

The form book might be against him, but world number one Dustin Johnson can have a Claret Jug-shaped silver lining to a disappointing 2021 in the majors. The American failed to make the cut at both the Masters and the US PGA Championship, alongside a 19th-placed finish in the U.S. Open this year.

An aggregate career score of +15 in The Open is hardly the stuff of a potential champion, but a decade ago he tied second behind champion Clarke. Johnson is a better player now, and the type of optimist capable of winning a major out of the blue. Write him off at your peril.

GLORY FOR RORY AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY! – Chris Myson

The Open champion in 2014, Rory McIlroy is rightly seen as a contender in Kent. He did miss the cut at this tournament in 2019 – but that was the first time he has done so since 2013.

When the Northern Irishman gets to the weekend at The Open, he is usually competitive. He had four consecutive top-five finishes prior to his previous disappointing outing and has a total of five in his career, including that triumph seven years ago. A top 10 at the U.S. Open gave McIlroy some much-needed major momentum and he can now finish with a flourish in his final opportunity this year.

HATTON CAN LINK IT ALL TOGETHER - John Skilbeck

Considering the winners Royal St George's has thrown up in the 21st century - Curtis and a past-his-prime Clarke - you might as well stick a pin in the field and take your chances. Tyrrell Hatton has twice won the Dunhill Links Championship which points to him knowing how to handle an Open course, and he has scored victories on each side of the Atlantic in the past 18 months so brings recent experience of closing out tournaments successfully.

Whether he wins or not is another thing: there are missed cuts on his Open Championship CV. However, two top-six finishes in the last four editions suggests the Englishman might not be far away.

World number one Jon Rahm is just two shots off the lead at the Scottish Open after a five-under 66 in the first round. 

Six players, including Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter, matched the recently crowned U.S. Open champion's score during Thursday’s play at The Renaissance Club.

Lee Westwood and Rahm's playing partner Justin Thomas went one better, though, to leave them just behind surprise leader Jack Senior, who carded a seven-under 64.

Rory McIlroy was also in action in the same group as Rahm and Thomas, the Northern Irishman finishing on one under, and Rahm revealed he was in awe of the duo, who have both previously sat on top of the world rankings.

"Playing with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy with their CVs puts you in your place," he said. "I'm still really far from what they have accomplished. It's certainly motivational, you know?

"I was able to accomplish a dream, something that some people have taken longer to do and to do it at 26, playing some good golf, it's good stuff.

"It's all a motivation to keep playing better and win the tournament.

"I'm not going to lie, I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I'm there sitting with Rory, great player, Justin, great player, and I get announced as world number one, Race to Dubai leader and U.S. Open champion.

"I was just a little surprised by it. I didn't expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard on one."

World number five Xander Schauffele and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington were in a group of 14 players sat on four under par.

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