By Andrew Both
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - The decision by four top South African and Australian players to opt out of Olympic golf has left lower-ranked men from both countries scrambling to qualify for Rio after having been resigned to missing out.
Former world number one Ernie Els is among those still keen to get on board the South African team, but knows he must put some good results on the board soon.
“I would love to do that,” four-times major champion Els told Reuters at this week's Wells Fargo Championship when asked about the Olympic experience.
The qualification rules are complicated, but it seems South Africa and Australia will both have two-man teams, comprised of the highest-ranked available players on the July 11 cut-off date, a month before the Rio Olympics competition.
On the South African side, Louis Oosthuizen (world ranking of 13th) and Charl Schwartzel (ranked 21st) have withdrawn from consideration for personal reasons.
Branden Grace, ranked 11th, appears a lock for one spot but the second position is very much up for grabs.
Jaco Van Zyl (ranked 60th) currently occupies the second spot, while Els is all the way down at 216th after recent struggles that included a well-publicised six-putt at the first hole of the Masters last month.
But Els knows his ranking would skyrocket with a couple of strong finishes, perhaps even a tournament victory.
“I’ve got a little mountain to climb but the next month is very important for me to come from 216 in the world and try to get in the top 50,” the 46-year-old Els said.
On the Australian front, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman are giving Rio a miss, leaving 63rd-ranked Marcus Fraser as the second player behind world number one Jason Day, based on the current standings.
But Matt Jones (71) and Scott Hend (76) are both close behind Fraser, with Stephen Bowditch (96) and John Senden (103) also within striking distance.
Jones is not obsessing over his ranking, instead just trying to play well and let the chips fall where they may.
“Play well and I’ll get in,” he told Reuters at the Wells Fargo event. “I don’t look at that (ranking) stuff. I’ll find out on July 11. If I’m the second person, I’ll be in.”
(Editing by Larry Fine)