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.

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.

The men's 100 metres event took centre stage in Sunday's Tokyo Olympics action as Marcell Jacobs won gold at the Olympic Stadium.

Jacobs, the first Italian to even reach the final, broke the European record with a time of 9.80 seconds to finish ahead of Fred Kerley and Andre De Grasse.

That triumph came shortly after an incredible conclusion to the men's high jump that saw Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim share the gold medal.

There was nothing to separate the pair after two hours of competition and, with both men tied on 2.37m, they agreed to share first place rather than have a jump-off.

Italy winning two athletics gold medals at the same Olympics for the first time since Athens 2004 was the story of the day, but there were plenty more talking points on Sunday.

 

PAN GETS BRONZE AFTER EPIC PLAY-OFF

Xander Schauffele landed Olympic gold for the United States on the golf course on a nail-biting final round of action that saw Rory Sabbatini take silver with an Olympic record 10-under round of 61.

That was just half the story, though. Seven players finished in a tie for third, setting up a thrilling play-off that culminated in Chinese Taipei's CT Pan pipping Open champion Collin Morikawa to an unlikely bronze.

It marks quite the turnaround for Pan, who was way down in 39th after a first-round three-over 74. Indeed, even the world number 208 himself was shocked to hold his own among the world's elite golfers.

"That was very satisfying," Pan said. "It came as a surprise to me. After day one, I remember I texted one of my good friends and I was like, 'the struggle is real'. I couldn't even think about winning a medal. 

"I didn't even think about it after Thursday's round. Overall, that was a very happy ending."

Rory McIlroy was one of the players to miss out on bronze in the play-off, though even the Irishman has been won over by the success of this week's event in Tokyo – just the fourth time golf has been staged at a Games.

"I've never tried so hard in my life to finish third," he said. "It's been a great experience. Today was a great day, to be up there in contention for a medal.

"I've made some comments on the Olympics before that were probably uneducated and impulsive. I'm excited about how this week turned out and I'm excited for the future.

"It's been a throwback to the good old days when we didn't play for money. It was great, a really enjoyable week."

NO BETTER FEELING FOR ZVEREV

Zverev won the ATP Finals in 2018 and reached last year's US Open title match, but nothing compares to winning Olympic gold for his country in the view of the German.

Having defeated favourite Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, Zverev carried his momentum into Sunday's final with Russian Olympic Committee's Karen Khachanov to land the biggest title of his career.

The 24-year-old took just 79 minutes to record a comfortable 6-3 6-1 victory at Ariake Tennis Park as he became Germany's first men's singles champion at the Olympics. 

"There is nothing better than this," he said. "You are not only playing for yourself, you are playing for your country. The Olympics are the biggest sporting event in the world.

"The feeling I have now, and will have, nothing will be better."

 

MCKEON AND DRESSEL REIGN SUPREME ON FINAL DAY OF SWIMMING

Australia's Emma McKeon marked the final day of swimming at Tokyo 2020 by making history with her victories in the women's 50m freestyle and women's 4x100m medley relay at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

She has four golds in Tokyo and seven podium finishes in total, making her just the second woman to win that number of medals in one Olympic Games after Maria Gorokhovskaya in artistic gymnastics at Helsinki 1952.

"I never thought I'd win two gold medals in one session. I'm very happy," she said. "It is very surreal.

"I feel like it has been a bit of a roller coaster getting a gold medal and trying to keep the emotions at bay. It will take a while to sink in because I've been focusing on myself to keep my cool. 

"I'm very proud of myself. I wouldn't be able to do it without all the support around me."

Caeleb Dressel rounded off his own Olympics in style, too, by finishing top of the podium in the men's 50m freestyle with an Olympic record of 21.07s, before adding a fifth gold in the men's 4x100m medley.

The 24-year-old swam the fastest butterfly split in history in the second of those events (49.03s) to help the United States to a world record time of 3:26.78, enough to hold off a Great Britain quartet that included Adam Peaty and Duncan Scott.

Dressel, who now has three of the six quickest times in history to his name, said: "I'm proud of myself. I think I reached what my potential was here at these Games.

"It was just really fun racing. I'll give myself a pat on the back and then I'll just put it away and move forward. I'm going to take a break here – I'm pretty over swimming!"

WHITLOCK DOUBLES UP, HISTORIC GOLD FOR BELGIUM

A lot has changed for Max Whitlock in the five years since winning gold in the men's pommel horse in Rio – not least becoming a father – but the outcome was exactly the same in Tokyo.

The Team GB gymnast went first and delivered a superb routine that earned him a score of 15.583. After a nervous wait, Whitlock was confirmed as back-to-back gold medallist in the discipline – just the second male to achieve that – and a three-time gold medallist overall. 

Throw in the two World Championship titles he has won and the 28-year-old can now be considered the most successful gymnast of all time in the event.

"I feel absolutely lost for words, I can't even describe the feeling and I feel completely overwhelmed – it feels surreal," Whitlock told BBC Sport.

Elsewhere at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Sunday, Artem Dolgopyat won gold for Israel in the men's floor exercise and Rebeca Andrade became the second Brazilian athlete to win Olympic gold in artistic gymnastics by coming out on top in the women's vault.

History was made in the women's uneven bars, an event made unpredictable by the withdrawal of Simone Biles, as Nina Derwael held off Anastasiia Iliankova and Sunisa Lee to claim Belgium's first Olympic gold medal in artistic gymnastics.

Derwael, the fifth Belgian female to win Olympic gold in an individual event at the Games, said: "It's a fantastic feeling. I still can't believe it. It's been a long road to get here, it's been a long week. 

"Standing on the podium was such a magical moment. I really felt like I was dreaming, and I still had to wake up. I felt like the day still had to start. It's just unbelievable."

Xander Schauffele landed Olympic gold on the golf course for the United States after a dramatic final round saw Rory Sabbatini's 61 almost snatch top spot on the podium.

A terrific third shot at the 18th left Schauffele with a short putt for victory, after he found deep rough off the tee and could not go for the green in regulation.

He held his nerve to protect his one-shot advantage, finishing on 18 under par as Sabbatini took a spirited silver for Slovakia.

The battle for the bronze at Kasumigaseki Country Club went down to a seven-man play-off, with Chinese Taipei's world number 208 CT Pan landing the third-place medal and Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy among those left disappointed.

By the time they reached the fourth extra hole it was down to a two-man battle between Open champion Morikawa and Pan, who had both posted closing 63s. Morikawa found sand with his second shot, the ball becoming plugged, and although he just about got it on the green, the putt he left went astray, leaving Pan to roll in an eight-footer for the medal.

Schauffele and Matsuyama were in Sunday's final group to start, just as they were at The Masters in April when Japan's newest golf star became his country's first men's major champion.

This time it was Schauffele's time to triumph, with the 27-year-old Las Vegas resident, who was born in San Diego, just about doing enough as a four-under 67 sealed the title.

And he could relax at last, the tension of the past hour all forgotten.


THIS ONE'S FOR DAD

Schauffele, whose mother was raised in Japan, was asked if it was his biggest career win and replied: "I'd like to say so, yeah."

His father, Stefan, has been with him in a coaching capacity this week, and Schauffele said: "I really wanted to win for my dad. I am sure he is crying somewhere right now. I kind of wanted this one more than any other.

"You are trying to represent your country to the best of your ability and then you add family stuff on top of that and I'm probably going to have a nice call with my grandparents tonight. I am sure they are back home, everyone is back home watching. I was feeling the love from San Diego and Las Vegas this whole time.

"I'm a little speechless right now, quite honestly."

 

Schauffele almost lost his ball when he drove into trees on the right side of the fairway on the par-five 14th, hitting a provisional ball in case there was no sign of the first.

That ball was soon located though, with Schauffele taking a penalty to bring it into a just-about playable position.

Matsuyama found the green in two but Schauffele was still short after four and was grateful to make six. Matsuyama went close with his eagle putt but had to settle for birdie, moving one shot behind Schauffele who slipped back to join Sabbatini on 17 under.

"It got a little dicey there," Schauffele later said. "When you are trying to win you need some things to go your way. I took a pretty big risk trying a hack-it-through-a-bush type shot and it missed my gap. I literally did the Matrix through these trees and it could have easily hit a tree and gone out. So, today was definitely my day."


HANGING TOUGH, DESPITE THE ROUGH

It was a hectic leaderboard all day long. Sabbatini had come from way back in the field thanks to his 10-under round and was waiting in the clubhouse to see what reward that would bring him.

Home favourite Matsuyama bogeyed the next to fall two back but gave himself a chance of birdie at the short next hole with a tee shot to around 10 feet, only to miss by a whisker.

Ireland's McIlroy was then two inches away from a birdie at the last that would have taken him to 16 under and secured bronze, yet he went into the play-off instead, as did Matsuyama.

Schauffele made birdie at 17 to edge in front on his own, and after the wretched tee shot at the last threatened to undo his gold medal mission, the American saved his best for last.

The third shot was almost right at the pin, finishing four feet away. Schauffele made no mistake, succeeding Justin Rose as Olympic champion, with the sport having returned to the Games programme in 2016 for the first time in 112 years.

The play-off also featured Chile's Mito Pereira, Great Britain's Paul Casey and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, with Pan the unlikely figure to emerge with the bronze.

Rory McIlroy conceded he needs to "give things a chance" after having his opinion of the Olympic Games altered in Tokyo.

McIlroy was somewhat indifferent to the Games ahead of golf's reintroduction in 2016, though he ultimately did not compete in Rio.

Before his appearance in Tokyo, McIlroy – who is representing Team Ireland along with Shane Lowry – claimed that he is "not very patriotic" but attended the event as he felt it was the correct thing to do.

However, the four-time major champion finds himself firmly in the mix for a medal at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.

The 32-year-old carded 67 on Saturday, putting him three shots behind leader Xander Schauffele on 11 under, and he is tied for fifth alongside Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and Sepp Straka.

"I've been thinking about that, I need to give things a chance," McIlroy replied when asked if his opinion of the Olympics had changed.

"I was speaking to my wife last night and I was like 'maybe I shouldn't be so sceptical'.

"I think I need to do a better job of giving things a chance, experiencing things, not writing them off at first glance. That's sort of a trait of mine.

"But look, I'm happy to be proved wrong. I was proven wrong at the Ryder Cup, I've been proven wrong this week.

"It feels different, but I wouldn't know how to describe it. As it gets closer and you get closer to that finishing line, you start thinking about it a little bit more.

"Last week, an Olympic medal and I was like, 'I don't really know what that would mean to me'. But now you've got a chance to do it, it's like, 'Jeez that would be pretty cool'." 

McIlroy's team-mate Lowry is on 10 under, and McIlroy knows there is now extra pressure on the pair to deliver for Ireland.

"I think everyone kind of earmarked us for medals and it's nice going into the final round that we both have that to play for," he said.

"Two [medals] is better than one and one is better than none."

While McIlroy and Lowry are firmly in the running, Team USA's Schauffele is set to rekindle his Masters battle with home favourite Hideki Matsuyama.

The duo played together in the final two rounds at Augusta, with Japan's superstar Matsuyama triumphing, and they will go again in the final round on Sunday as they occupy the leading two spots.

Rory McIlroy is providing an extra source of inspiration for Yuka Saso, who is among the favourites to strike gold in the women's golf in Tokyo.

Saso comes into the Olympics having won the U.S. Women's Open in June; her first major championship success.

The 20-year-old from the Philippines idolises McIlroy and is spending her free time ahead of the women's event trailing the Northern Irishman around the Kasumigaseki Country Club.

She has been treated to a fine display from McIlroy, who has refound form to head into the final round just three shy of leader Xander Schauffele and well in contention for a medal.

"Watching him rip it is really good," SASO told the Olympic Information Service.

"Watching him today and seeing him swing gives me advice for my swing. I'll be watching him every day."

McIlroy greeted Saso during his round on Friday, and the youngster added: "That's pretty cool, who would think he would do that for me? It's been a dream watching him live."

A third-round 67 has put McIlroy in a tie for fifth on 11 under, with Schauffele holding a one-shot lead over home favourite Hideki Matsuyama – Paul Casey and Carlos Ortiz sit on 12 under.

"It was good, a continuation of how I played yesterday," McIlroy said after his efforts on Saturday.

"Felt like I maybe left a couple out there out on the back nine, I could have maybe got to 13 under, but I've got a great chance going into tomorrow. It's a bit of a packed leaderboard, all to play for.

"It's going to be brilliant, a lot of us are trying to do something that none of us have ever done before, a lot of us going to be going through experiences that we've never experienced so that's going to be fun, it's interesting and sets us up for a really good day tomorrow."

With the men's individual event wrapping up on Sunday, the women take to the course on Wednesday.

Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele battled it out for Masters glory and now they will go head to head in a scramble for Olympic gold on Sunday.

Japanese superstar Matsuyama trails American Schauffele by one shot going into the final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, and they will join Paul Casey in the final group out.

A home triumph for Matsuyama at the Tokyo Games would be an extremely popular result in Japan, but the top 10 are separated by only four strokes, so medals remain firmly in the sights of a host of players.


AS AUGUST ARRIVES, AN AUGUSTA REPEAT

Almost four months have gone by since Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a major, when he edged home at Augusta National on a tense final day.

He partnered Schauffele for the final two rounds at the Georgia course, and the same thing has played out this week, with the August 1 finale to the golf event sure to make for absorbing sporting theatre.

The big-name front-runners also had Mexican Carlos Ortiz for company on Saturday, but it was Schauffele who stayed at the head of the pack after following Friday's 63 with a hard-fought 68 to reach 14 under, with Matsuyama on 13 under after a 67, having completed a second-round of 64 earlier in the day.

Schauffele "hung tough", the American said, relying on solid putting to dig him out of trouble as he struggled with his long game.

It was Matsuyama who led going into the final round at The Masters in April, when he held a four-shot cushion but ended up winning by only one after a 73. Schauffele's hopes disappeared when he found water and made six at the par-three 16th that day.

Despite the gold medal being a tantalising target, Schauffele said Saturday had been a routine day on the course.

"Tomorrow may feel a little different," he said. "There's a little bit more on the line than what we normally play for and you're trying to represent your country to the best of your ability."

He was impressed by Matsuyama, who is playing his first event since testing positive for COVID-19, which forced him to miss the Open Championship.

"He seems to be fine," Schauffele said. "Teeing up, he seems strong, he seems normal and he seems himself. Luckily he wasn't hit too hard by it.

"He was firing on a lot of cylinders when he won the Masters. He's maybe not in his realm of perfection, hitting it as well as he'd want to, but he's one back.

"Hideki's a great player, our current Masters champion. I plan on wearing that [green] jacket some day as well. I assume we'll be playing in more final groups for years to come."


JAPAN EXPECTS, CAN HIDEKI DELIVER?

After the blow of Naomi Osaka losing early in the women's tennis, her fellow global superstar is coming good on the golf course.

Matsuyama has been surprised by his recovery from COVID and would love a medal from Tokyo's Games, expressing obvious pleasure at being in the mix so soon after being ill.

"I definitely could not have believed that," he said. "The endurance part of my game has been struggling a little bit, but thankfully it's held up in the last few days. Hopefully it will hold up tomorrow as well."

The host nation awaits a home golfing champion, and Matsuyama is up for the challenge of taking on Schauffele and the chasing pack.

He was asked how the Olympic experience compares to the pursuit of a major.

"There's not much difference to it, but in the Olympics the fact is that third place is still celebrated, as well as second, so there's a nice thing waiting for you even if you get third place," Matsuyama said.

"At a major championship, only the winner will be celebrated. I'm not sure tomorrow what my motivation will be, but I'm going to focus on playing good golf.

"I played with Xander in the third and fourth day together at The Masters. I'm sure Xander will come out determined to win the gold medal, so hopefully on my end too I'm going to come out strong on the mental side."


HOW LOW CAN THEY GO?

If Schauffele and Matsuyama are both to be overtaken on Sunday, it may take a score in the low 60s to snatch away gold.

Tommy Fleetwood showed that is possible with a 64 in the third round, as the Great Britain player climbed to a share of ninth on 10 under, alongside Ireland's Shane Lowry.

His team-mate Casey sits alongside Ortiz on 12 under, tied for third, with four players sharing fifth spot: Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Colombian Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira of Chile and Austrian Sepp Straka.

McIlroy said:"I've got a great chance going into tomorrow. It's a bit of a packed leaderboard so all to play for.

"It's going to be brilliant. A lot of us are trying to do something that none of us have ever done before.

"There's a lot of us that are going to be going through experiences that we've not experienced."

Rory McIlroy claimed he needed to take a step back from golf after his frustrating performance at the Open Championship, but the Olympics appear to have been just the tonic.

McIlroy carded 70-70-69-71 at Royal St George's to finish tied for 46th, well off the pace set by champion Collin Morikawa.

However, the four-time major winner has returned to form across the first two days of the men's golf at the Tokyo Olympics, and is in a tie for seventh along with fellow Team Ireland representative Shane Lowry.

Team USA's Xander Schauffele, who has backing in Japan – where his mother was raised – leads the way with 11 under, but McIlroy's five under par on Friday has put him firmly in medal contention.

Two birdies and an eagle on the front nine saw McIlroy leap up the leaderboard, though a bogey on his last hole saw McIlroy drop back to seven under overall.

It marks a welcome return to form for the 32-year-old, whose victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in May is his only success since 2019.

"My mental game more than anything. I think all the tools are there physically. Mentally there were a few things over the weekend at St George's," McIlroy said when asked what he needed to change after his disappointing display at the Open.

"Even getting off to that hot start on Saturday and not being able to keep it going and then the two tee shots I hit off 14 at the weekend were absolutely horrific. It was more a mental thing, I was crapping myself about hitting it out of bounds right and I hit it so far left with a 3-iron and I chunked a 2-iron on Sunday as well.

"I was just thinking too much about consequences and when you do that you are not as effortless, you are not as free, athletic, instinctive, all that sort of stuff. 

"I actually needed to get away from the game a little bit so I didn't touch the clubs for most of the week." 

McIlroy had low expectations ahead of making his Olympic debut, but is thrilled to be fighting for a podium place and is already casting an eye towards the Paris Games.

"The goal today was to get back in touch," he said.

"That was my thing I just wanted to get into contention going into the weekend and at least feel like I was part of the tournament and I've done that.

"It's funny when you sort of approach tournaments like that it's funny how you end up playing some of your best golf. Sometimes you can want things too much. 

"I didn't know if this was going to be my only Olympics I am going to play and I am already looking forward to Paris [2024]. Just the experience and this is obviously a very watered down experience compared to what it usually is."

Rory McIlroy has praised fellow Olympians Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for sparking fresh discussion around mental health in sport.

American Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast, pulled out of the individual all-around final and the women's team final this week to focus on her mental wellbeing.

Japan's Osaka withdrew from this year's French Open tennis and opted not to play at Wimbledon after speaking of battles with depression and anxiety, although she has taken part in the Olympics.

Four-time golf major winner McIlroy, who is representing Ireland in his first Olympics, has previously opened up about his own struggles.

And the 32-year-old said he was fully behind Biles, Osaka and other athletes for ensuring discussions around the subject are "not taboo anymore".

"I live in the United States and anything that came on the TV about the Olympics it was Simone Biles. I mean it was the Simone Biles Olympics, right?" McIlroy said.

"To have the weight of 300-whatever million [people in the USA] on her shoulders is massive.

"Just as I thought Naomi Osaka was right to do what she did at the French Open and take that time off and get herself in the right place, I 100 per cent agree with what Simone is doing as well.

"You have to put yourself in the best position physically and mentally to be at your best and if you don't feel like you are at that, or you are in that position then you are going to have to make those decisions.

"I'm certainly very impressed, especially with those two women to do what they did and put themselves first.

"I'm glad that at least the conversation has started. There's been a few athletes that have really spoken: Michael Phelps, Kevin Love, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles. The conversation, it's not taboo anymore."

McIlroy believes an athlete suffering from mental health issues should not be viewed any differently from one suffering from a physical injury.

"People can talk about it. Just as someone has a knee injury, or an elbow injury, if you don't feel right 100 per cent mentally that's an injury too," he said.

"I think in sports there's still this notion of powering through it, digging in and you're not a competitor unless you get through these things. I think that's probably part of it.

"But then when you hear the most decorated Olympian ever talk about his struggles and then probably the greatest gymnast ever talk about her struggles, you know then it encourages more people who have felt that way to come out and share how they're feeling."

McIlroy has been a little out of sorts heading into the Olympics, a tie for 59th at the Irish Open preceded a missed cut at the Scottish Open while he shared 46th at the Open Championship.

However, the world number 13 now has more coping mechanisms to handle the mental strain of competing at the highest level and fluctuations in form and performance.

He saud: "I certainly have a few more tools in my mental toolbox to maybe deal with things than I had a few years ago. Again, it's just trying to put yourself in an environment in which you can thrive. That's the bottom line.

"Someone like Naomi Osaka was trying to put herself in that environment in the French Open and I think the whole sports world was behind that decision. It obviously didn't play out the way she wanted it to, but it certainly started a great conversation."

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.

Rory McIlroy believes missing the cut at the Scottish Open could prove beneficial as he bids for glory at The Open.

The four-time major winner, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2014, endured a testing couple of days at the Renaissance Club, where an intruder attempted to steal his club.

McIlroy failed to make the weekend but that gave the 32-year-old extra preparation time ahead of the 149th Open at Royal St George's.

He will try to atone for a poor showing at the 2019 edition of golf's oldest major, where he missed the cut as the home hope at Royal Portrush.

The omens bode well for McIlroy, who has bounced back to win the next tournament in three of the previous nine instances where he has seen his campaign ended after two rounds.

 

Asked if that fact was mere coincidence, McIlroy said: "No, I certainly don't think it's a chance statistic.

"Look, I think in golf you always learn more about your game when you've missed a cut or struggled or not played as well. I think anyone can play well, anyone can hit the ball great and give themselves chances to win, but you just learn more.

"I've always learnt more from disappointments and from not doing as well, but I've always tried to learn. I've always tried to figure out, okay, why did this week not go so well, and then you give yourself a couple of thoughts and they're fresh in your mind going into the next week.

"That's why I say in golf there's always next week, and that's a great thing, because you can right some wrongs pretty quickly. I've been able to do that in the past.

"I missed the cut at Memorial a couple years ago, went down and won the Canadian Open the next week. Yeah, missed the cut at the Masters and then went and my next start was Quail Hollow and I won.

"Golf always just gives you another opportunity to go out and play well and to see if you've learned from your mistakes, and I've always made it a priority in my career to really try to learn from my mistakes, all the way back to what happened at Augusta in 2011 and going and winning the U.S. Open the next major."

Indeed, after his disappointment in Northern Ireland in 2019, McIlroy closed that year by winning the FedExCup, which he said "gave me a few million reasons to feel better".

He will tee off at the Kent links in pursuit of a second Open title on Thursday at 15:21 local time alongside Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith.

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