Asia No. 1 Hideki Matsuyama withdraws from Olympics over Zika fears

Seven players from the top 25 in world are not going to Rio next month

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 11:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 11:38am

Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama said he was pulling out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus, making him the seventh golfer to cite the mosquito-borne virus for sitting out golf’s return to the Olympics after 112 years.

Matsuyama, who won the Phoenix Open earlier this year in a play-off for his second PGA Tour victory, announced his decision after he finished the Bridgestone Invitational.

“Although I am excited that golf is returning to the Olympics and I realise that my potential success would help grow the game in Japan, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot put myself or my team member’s health at risk,” said Matsuyama, who is ranked 15th in the world.

That makes seven players from the top 25 in the world who have said they are not going to Rio next month. The others are Jason Day and Adam Scott of Australia, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and the South African trio of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Of the 11 golfers who said they would not go, seven specifically cited Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit of the approximately 60 countries that have reported an outbreak of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.

“I have been getting information from all the concerned parties as well as my doctors about the situation in Rio, but I cannot be 100 per cent sure about my safety, and my team’s safety, from the Zika virus,” Matsuyama said.

“Additionally, my body has a tendency to react strongly to insect bites.”

He called the choice “heart wrenching” not to go to the Olympics.

His announcement capped a tough week for golf, which last was part of the Olympics in 1904. Day is the number one player in the world and said on Tuesday he would not be going.

Shane Lowry said on Wednesday that he was too concerned about the Zika risk because he married in April and wants to start a family.

Jordan Spieth said he remained undecided.

Golf is assured of being part of the Tokyo Games, though the International Olympic Committee votes next year to determine if the sport will be part of the programme beyond 2020.

With one week remaining before qualifying ends through the world ranking, Japan’s two spots currently would go to Hideto Tanihara and Yuka Ikeda.

Tanihara won on the Japan Golf Tour on Sunday to move into the number two spot among Japanese players even before Matsuyama withdrew.

Each country is allowed two players until the 60-man field is set, with a maximum of four players provided they are among the top 15 in the world.

Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson returned from celebrating his US Open victory by taking down the world’s best player to win another World Golf Championship.

Johnson didn’t miss a beat from Oakmont to Firestone, powering and putting his way to a four-under 66 on Sunday to win the Bridgestone Invitational for his second straight victory, making him the player to beat heading into the British Open in two weeks.

“This golf course is playing so tough, it’s not like I need to go out and shoot 63,” Johnson said. “You just try to hit it in the fairway and get to get it on the green and try to make some putts. I knew if I shot four or five under I’d have a chance.”

He was helped in part by a surprising collapse by Jason Day.

Day was tied for the lead when he hooked a three-wood off the tee on the par-5 16th, hit across the fairway and tried to bend a shot around the pond. He went into the water, making double bogey.

Day did not hit a green in regulation over his last six holes.

Johnson now has three WGC titles.