Maverick McNealy soared to the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage of the Fortinet Championship, but John Rahm's PGA Tour season debut ended in the world number one missing the cut.

McNealy earned a two-stroke lead following the second round of the 2021-22 season opener at Silverado Country Club, where the 25-year-old American carded an eight-under-par 64.

It is McNealy's lowest opening 36-hole score (68-64) on the PGA Tour.

However, Spanish star Rahm failed to qualify for the weekend after back-to-back rounds in the 70s in Napa, California.

Tuning up for the Ryder Cup, Rahm – who missed Wednesday's pro-am due to a stomach ailment, having placed second in the FedEx Cup play-offs – never got going, an opening-round 72 followed by a 71 as he finished one under, below the three-under cut line.

"I get to rest a couple extra days and be able to figure out what's going on with my swing, which technically is not really anything bad," said Rahm, who recorded his 13th missed cut in his 113th PGA Tour start, with his last missed cut at this year's Wells Fargo Championship.

"It's just I think a lot of those swings were made to look worse because of how tough it is out there."

Beau Hossler (64) and Mito Pereira (67) are tied for second and two shots adrift of McNealy heading into Saturday's third round, while Troy Merritt (68), Will Zalatoris (67) and Bronson Burgoon (67) are a stroke further back at nine under.

Rookie David Lipsky's second-round 64 was a nine-stroke improvement on his first round and a career-low round that included nine birdies, the most he has managed in a single round on Tour.

Lipsky is seven under through 36 holes, alongside the likes of Tom Hoge (66) and Peter Malnati (66), while Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama is a shot back following his three-under-par 69.

Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson posted a 69 to be tied for 24th and seven shots off the pace.

Bryson DeChambeau turned in a spectacular second round at the BWM Championship, shooting a career-best 60 Friday to rocket to the top of the leaderboard. 

DeChambeau carded a pair of eagles and eight birdies in a flawless round at Caves Valley Golf Club near Baltimore, Maryland, leaving him 16 under par for the tournament. 

Play was suspended due to darkness with 15 players still on the course, including first-round leader Jon Rahm. The second round of the FedEx Cup play-off event will conclude Saturday morning before the third round begins. 

Through the 15 holes he completed Friday, Rahm was one stroke back of DeChambeau at 15 under. Earlier in the day, Patrick Cantlay finished his round at 15 under after shooting 63. 

Sergio Garcia (67) and Im Sung-jae (65) were four back of DeChambeau at 12 under, while Hudson Swafford (66) was in at 11 under along with Sam Burns, who had one hole left to play. 

Rory McIlroy (70) was at 10 under with Abraham Ancer, who was four under for the round through 16 holes. 

The story of the day, though, was DeChambeau's run at a 59, which he said entered his mind after his eagle at 16.

He had putts for birdie at 17 and 18 but could not convert, saying his simply misread the six-foot putt on the last. 

Despite coming so close to the magic number, the American did not lament the final miss. 

"It's just one shot," he said. "There's plenty of holes where I could have made a birdie somewhere else not making it, I still executed a good putt, just didn't break the way I wanted it to. That's all I could ask for."

DeChambeau's previous low round was 62 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last October and he was pleased to play as well as he did Friday. 

“It was an awesome opportunity," he said. "I had a couple birdie opportunities at 17 and 18, and it didn't happen but I’m still really proud of the way I handled myself, and it's great to feel some pressure again which is awesome.

“A lot of putts went in. A lot of things went right. We got a lot of great numbers out of the rough today, and I played my butt off and never thought too much about anything until the last few holes."

Elsewhere in the 69-man field, Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele (68) was at nine under, one shot better than Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (69). 

Three-time tournament winner Dustin Johnson (70) was at seven under along with Brooks Koepka (67). 

Among those well back of the lead were Jordan Spieth (70) and Lee Westwood (70) at three under. Phil Mickelson was there, too, after completing just 13 holes Friday. 

Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa brought up the rear at three over for the tournament following a 75 that saw him card three bogeys and no birdies. 

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.

Russell Henley carded his first bogey of the tournament but still managed to double his lead at the Wyndham Championship on Friday. 

Seeking his first PGA Tour win in four years, Henley shot 64 in the second round and sits at 14 under par for the tournament. 

That left him four strokes up on Rory Sabbatini (64), Webb Simpson (65) and Scott Piercy (66) heading into the weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Starting on the back nine at the Sedgefield Country Club, Henley bogeyed number 12, his third hole of the day, before reeling off four consecutive birdies from 14 through 17.

Three more birdies coming home after the turn solidified his edge as he eyes his first win since the 2017 Houston Open. 

Henley's 126 matches the lowest 36-hole score posted on tour this season along with Stewart Cink at the RBC Heritage. 

Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Sabbatini had a bogey-free day to match Henley's round, while Simpson remained near the top of the leaderboard thanks in part to an eagle at the fifth. 

Simpson's success is no surprise, as he has finished in the top three at the Wyndham the last four years after winning it in 2011. 

Tyler Duncan had the best round of the day with a 62 that left him five shots back at nine under along with Justin Rose (65) and Brian Stuard (66). 

Among other notables, Bubba Watson (69) and Adam Scott are 10 strokes back at four under, one shot better than the cut line. 

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (69) missed the cut by a stroke, while former world number one Luke Donald (67) finished at one under and two-time major winner Zach Johnson fell short at even par along with defending tournament champion Jim Herman. 

Also finished for the week-end are Padraig Harrington (76) at two over, Rickie Fowler (72) at three over and Charl Schwartzel (73) at seven over. 

Fowler's missed cut means his season is over, as he will not make the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in his career. 

Two players who were tied for second after Thursday's opening round, Michael Thompson and Ted Potter Jr., also missed the cut after slumping to 74 and 77, respectively. 

World number 56 Russell Henley leads by two strokes from seven players after the opening day of the Wyndham Championship with play suspended late on Thursday.

Henley carded an eight-under-62 including an eagle on the fifth hole and three birdies on the final four to open up a two-shot lead at the Sedgefield Country Club in North Carolina.

The American leads from a group of players on six under including Sung Kang, Ted Potter Jr, Michael Thompson, Chris Kirk, Scott Piercy, Hudson Swafford and Adam Hadwin.

A long list of players were a further stroke back at five-under, led by Webb Simpson, Denny McCarthy, Kevin Kisner and Erik van Rooyen.

World number 19 Simpson fought back after a double bogey on the first hole, with eight birdies across his round.

All of the contenders except for Hadwin got through their 18 holes before play was suspended due to darkness after inclement weather had earlier interrupted. Hadwin got through 16 holes for his six under, with the first round to resume on Friday at 7:30am local time.

April's Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama finished his opening round with a one-under-69, double bogeying the fourth hole around birdies on the second and fifth.

Brian Harman, Kevin Na and Will Zalatoris ended the day two under, while American Jason Kokrak improved on his back nine to card an even round following a bogey and double bogey on the 14th and 15th holes.

American Austin Cook, who finished even, was cruelly denied an ace on the 16th when his tee shot horseshoed out of the hole.

Abraham Ancer thought he had blown his shot at his first PGA Tour win the first time he played the 18th hole on Sunday. Turns out he just needed two more chances on the hole to make it happen. 

Ancer birdied the second playoff hole from six feet and watched as Sam Burns missed almost the same putt to give him the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational title as the third man in the playoff, Hideki Matsuyama, also made par. 

After finishing as runner-up four times in his previous 120 Tour starts, Ancer finally prevailed in Memphis to become the ninth first-time winner this season and the fourth player from Mexico to win on Tour. 

"This is surreal," he told CBS. "I thought I left so many shots out there on the back nine, but you never know. Golf is crazy.

"There's been some times that I felt like I made enough birdies to win and I didn't win. This is kind of how it goes and I'm happy that I got lucky."

A significant portion of that luck came on the first playoff hole, when Matsuyama had a chance to win it but saw his long putt for birdie on 18 lip out, sending the trio back to the 18th tee for another go.

The 2021 Masters champion turned in the round of the day just to make the playoff, firing a bogey-free seven-under 63 to fly up the leaderboard on the final day. 

Burns was close behind with a 64, a double bogey on 13 his only blemish. 

Harris English, who held a two-stroke lead after each of the first three rounds, watched those three fly by him as he slumped to a three-over 73 and finished fourth after opening the tournament with rounds of 62, 65 and 65. 

English bogeyed the opening hole before regaining his stride with three birdies, but he did not make another after the eighth hole, posting double bogeys at 11 and 14 and a bogey at the par-five 16th. 

The American said afterward that a warning for slow play on the front nine knocked him out of rhythm and he felt like he was rushing the rest of the day.

His playing partner Bryson DeChambeau had an even more difficult time after working himself into contention with a 63 on Saturday. 

DeChambeau carded a triple-bogey six on the 11th and also did not manage a birdie on the back nine on the way to a 74 that left him tied for eighth at 12 under for the tournament. 

Rough as that triple was for DeChambeau, honours for worst hole of the day went to Kim Si-woo.

The South Korean hit five successive shots in the water at the 11th on the way to a 13 – the worst score on a par-three hole on the PGA Tour since 1983, not including majors.

Among other notables, Dustin Johnson (70) tied for 10th at 11 under, one stroke better than Rory McIlroy (66) and Jordan Spieth (67).

Phil Mickelson (68) finished at seven under along with Louis Oosthuizen, who floundered to a 74 in the final round. 

Sergio Garcia (72), Collin Morikawa (69) and defending champion Justin Thomas (72) were at five under, with Patrick Reed (70) and Lee Westwood (71) one back of them. 

Olympic champion Xander Schauffele (68) was at even par and Brooks Koepka (76) at two over. 

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.

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."

Japan's great golf hope Hideki Matsuyama has revealed he feared he would miss the Tokyo Olympics when he tested positive for COVID-19.

The Masters champion pulled out before the second round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit on July 2, and the 29-year-old has not played competitive golf since, missing out on the Open Championship.

He has also not had a top-20 finish since landing green jacket glory at Augusta National in April, slightly dampening hopes of a home gold medallist at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, where the men's tournament begins on Thursday.

Matsuyama hopes a strong mental approach can stand him in good stead as he returns to a course that holds fond memories for the 29-year-old.

It is where he won the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, securing him a first ticket to The Masters and serving as a springboard for his professional career.

"To be able to represent Japan and play in my home country and a home Olympics, this is probably the first and last time I'll be able to do that," Matsuyama said in a news conference on Tuesday.

"Three weeks ago I got tested positive for COVID-19 and wasn't really sure I'd be able to make it to this stage here. Now I'm here and I'm very happy to be able to be here.

"I tested positive for COVID for about 10 days in duration. During that time I was unable to practise, but once I got back to Japan I started practising.

"Hopefully I'll be able to be in the best form possible for the event this week."

Matsuyama said he was "very happy" to test negative ahead of the Olympics, and the significance of the venue is not lost on him.

"In a way, Kasumigaseki has been the place and catalyst for me to progress and grow," he said. "Hopefully I can do the same this week and move on to another level. 

"Since my Masters win, I haven't had the best results so far this summer, so I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be fun and I'm going to try my best to do well.

"I'm going to try to overcome any physical deficit with the mental side."

With his golf commitments, Matsuyama said he had found little time to watch fellow Japanese competitors from other sports in the Games, although he has been keeping tabs on their success in the medals table, with the hosts challenging near the top.

"Hopefully I can follow their footsteps and be in a position to win a medal as well," he said.

Joaquin Niemann and Tom Lewis are tied for the one-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where defending champion Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut.

Niemann and Lewis both carded three-under-par 69s in the second round of the PGA Tour tournament in Detroit on Friday.

Eyeing his second PGA Tour title and first since the 2019 Greenbrier Classic, Chilean golfer Niemann was bogey-free as he recorded three birdies to reach 10 under through 36 holes.

Englishman Lewis – a two-time European Tour champion but without success on the PGA circuit – was also flawless following three birdies without a dropped shot on day two.

Lewis is making his 45th career PGA Tour start. In his first 43 starts, he played the opening 36 holes in 134 or better once (134/2020 Shriners Hospital for Children Open). The 30-year-old has now done it in each of his last two starts – 134 at Travelers Championship and this week's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Troy Merritt (68), Chris Kirk (68) and Max Homa (65) are a shot off the pace heading into the weekend, while overnight leader Davis Thompson (73) is among a group of players tied for sixth at eight under.

Former world number one Jason Day could only manage a second-round 73 as he fell to four under, six shots behind the leading pair – a stroke better off than Patrick Reed (72) and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson (72).

US PGA Championship winner Mickelson played the final two holes in one-under to finish three under, just a shot above the cut line.

"I am tired of trying to fight to make cuts. I want to get in contention, because that's what's so much fun, like it was at the PGA, just being in contention and having a chance," Mickelson said.

DeChambeau (71) was not so fortunate as the big-hitting American's title defence came to an end after just two rounds at one under.

Meanwhile, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama was forced to withdraw before his second round after testing positive for coronavirus.

After an absence of 112 years, golf made a grand return to the Olympics schedule at the 2016 Rio Games.

Now, four years on, another stellar cast from the men's and women's games are descending on Tokyo aiming to stand atop the podium.

While several big names once again opted out – including former world number one Dustin Johnson – amid a demanding schedule during the traditional major season, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda offer plenty of star attraction.

With that in mind, Stats Perform provides an overview of those competing for golfing glory in Japan.

RAHM, BRYSON, MCILROY AND THOMAS THE HEADLINE ACTS

Justin Rose missed out on qualification, meaning there will be a new gold medal winner in the men's competition. And what an achievement it would be for Rahm to add an Olympic accolade to his name fresh off breaking his major duck with a fine U.S. Open triumph last month. McIlroy finished in a tie for seventh at Torrey Pines and, having previously been among the biggest critics of golf at the Olympics, is to make his Games debut representing Ireland aiming to add a gold medal to his four career majors. There are four male representatives from a star-studded United States cast that includes three major winners in the form of Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Colin Morikawa. DeChambeau had been well in contention to win the U.S. Open before a final-round collapse, with Morikawa finishing fourth. Xander Schauffele – the final American male in action – was tied seventh and is sure to have plenty of support given his mother, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Japan.

KORDA OUT TO TAKE INBEE'S CROWN

Inbee Park is one of the all-time greats and the seven-time major victor is among the favourites to retain her gold medal from Rio four years ago. Ko Jin-young provides another strong South Korean hope, as do countrywomen Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo. But it is Nelly Korda who travels to Tokyo with all the momentum. The 22-year-old took the Women's US PGA Championship last month to ascend to the top of the LPGA rankings for the first time. Elder sister Jessica Korda also qualified, while their brother Sebastian is in line to represent the United States in tennis. Major winners Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson complete a strong four-woman contingent. Filipino sensation Yuka Saso, who won the U.S. Open this year, is another to watch out for in the women's competition.

MATSUYAMA, HATAOKA OUT TO MAKE MOST OF HOME ADVANTAGE

Hideki Matsuyama made history by becoming the first man from Japan to win a major tournament with his glorious triumph at the Masters back in April. Moreover, the 29-year-old has previous at the Kasumigaseki Country Club – a venue where he won the Asia-Amateur Championship in 2010. A quiet man he may be on the course, but expect fireworks from Matsuyama in Tokyo. In the women's field, Nasa Hataoka is the highest-ranked Japanese player gunning for gold. With eight professional wins to her name, Hataoka went agonisingly close to securing a maiden major when she lost out in a play-off to then-teenager Saso at the U.S. Open. Hinako Shibuno, the 2019 Women's British Open champion, missed out on selection with Mone Inami instead Japan's other female representative.

Davis Thompson tied the 18-hole scoring record at the Rocket Mortgage Classic after earning the opening-round lead.

Thompson – in his third PGA Tour tournament as a professional – carded a nine-under-par 63 to claim a two-stroke lead in Detroit, where play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday.

The 22-year-old surprisingly leads at Detroit Golf Club following a flawless first round which featured nine birdies to match the 18-hole scoring record at the event, joining Nate Lashley and J.T. Poston (both in 2019).

"Sounds good on Sunday," Thompson said afterwards, having been a collective six-over par in his six previous starts on tour (four as an amateur). "It's only Thursday. I know I've got a long way to go."

"I’ve played in a few pro events now, so you've just got to keep your emotions in check," Thompson said. "Anything can happen. I know I'm playing well, so I'm just going to have some confidence going into [Friday] and hopefully I can play another good round."

Brandon Hagy, Tom Lewis and Joaquin Niemann are two shots off the pace heading into Friday's second round, while Seamus Power and J.J. Spain are a stroke further back.

Former world number one Jason Day ended the opening day five under following his 67 as six-time major champion and US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson posted a 69 to be level with the likes of Patrick Reed.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama opened his tournament with a two-under-par 70.

As for defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, the big-hitting American shot an even-par 72.

Trying to successfully defend a PGA Tour title for the first time, world number six DeChambeau mixed three birdies with three bogeys.

It comes as DeChambeau and caddie Tim Tucker take some time apart.

"They have gone their separate ways for now," DeChambeau's agent Brett Falkoff told ESPN. "That doesn't mean forever, but it means they are not working together now. They met last night and decided to move on.

"It's just an accumulation of things, and it's never easy when a player and caddie split up. They just decided the best situation for now was essentially to not be together anymore."

The delay to the Tokyo Olympics has been a source of frustration for countless athletes, but perhaps none more so than the Japanese stars so desperate to succeed in their home nation.

Uncertainty and confusion surrounding the Games has sadly reigned for the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And yet, here we are in the month the action is set to begin and the show looks certain to go on.

No international spectators will be in attendance, but limited numbers of domestic fans are due to be allowed to watch the action.

So, who are the biggest names representing Japan the locals will hope to inspire to glory? Stats Perform has taken a look…

NAOMI OSAKA

There is no other place to begin than with one of the biggest names in the whole of sport, let alone tennis right now. Naomi Osaka is a superstar with a huge global following, particularly in Japan and America. Only 23 and with four grand slams to her name, there is seemingly no limit to the level she can reach. Osaka is the defending US and Australian Open champion, but withdrew after the first round of the French Open and opted not to play at Wimbledon after revealing a long-endured battle with depression. The issue came to the fore when Osaka had announced she would not take part in media conferences in Paris to protect her mental health, starting a wider conversation over how athletes are treated. 

 

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

So often a nearly man, 2021 has already been a breakthrough year for the gifted Hideki Matsuyama. There were seven top-10 finishes in major tournaments before finally the 29-year-old took top billing to win the Masters at Augusta back in April. In doing so he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament (Hinako Shibuno and Chako Higuchi have both won majors in the women's game). Olympic gold is certainly not out of the question for one of the most gifted players in golf.

KIYUNA RYO

Karate is making its Olympics debut and so is one of its greatest ever competitors in the form of Kiyuna Ryo. In 2019, Ryo won every competition he entered - including a third Asian championship - while the pandemic denied him a shot at a record fourth straight WKF world championship in June 2020. It will take a huge effort to stop Ryo, who will be 31 by the time the Games begin, standing atop the podium.

UTA ABE

The younger sibling of two-time world champion Hifumi Abe – himself off to Tokyo 2020 – judoka Uta Abe represents a serious medal hope for Japan. A two-time world champion herself in the -52kg category, she will aim to become an Olympic champion on July 25 – the same day her brother will aim to wear gold in the men's -66kg category. There is no shortage of judo talent in Japan, with Shohei Ono aiming to defend the -73kg gold he won at Rio 2016.

KENTO MOMOTA 

The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone but especially for Kento Momota. In January 2020, the badminton star was involved in a road accident that claimed the life of his driver, while he required surgery on his eye socket. A combination of the injury, the global pandemic and a positive test for coronavirus kept Momota off the court for 14 months. But the two-time world champion – who won an astounding 11 titles as recently as 2019 – will be desperate to complete a fairytale ending with gold in Tokyo.

 

DAIYA SETO

One of Japan's greatest hopes in the pool, Daiya Seto already has an Olympic medal in the form of a bronze from Rio four years ago in the 400 metre individual medley. With four gold medals in long course world championships and as many at the Asian Games, there are plenty of high hopes for Seto.

Page 3 of 5
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.