Village athletes welcome US golf millionaires

Rio de Janeiro - USA's mega-rich golfers are enjoying meeting other athletes at the Rio Olympics, but they hope not to hang on the course with the world's largest rodents or crocodile-like caimans.

Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar are bedding into life at the Olympic Village ahead of Thursday's return of Olympic golf after a 112-year absence.

"Seeing what it means to some of the other athletes, this is a special opportunity for sure," Fowler said. "I had a warm welcome from other athletes and they were thanking me for being here. They appreciated me big time. They are glad we decided to come."

That's partly because the world's four top players - Australian Jason Day, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland - and many others decided to skip Rio, most citing fears of possible future birth defects linked to the mosquito-borne illness Zika.

"There will certainly be guys regretting not showing up," Kuchar said. "I know there were concerns. A lot of things get blown out of proportion."

"I'm probably asked the most about Jordan and Rory," Fowler said. "I told them I tried to get Jordan down here as much as possible."

A 60-man field for the 72-hole stroke-play event will find wildlife in abundance on the course with caimans and chunky rodents capybaras on the scene.

"Hopefully we don't have any encounters," Fowler said. "Capybara, it's a decent-sized animal. I wouldn't want to get in a fight with it, that's for sure. And the caimans, I'm going to keep away from them."

The US foursome, allowed to exceed the usual maximum of two per nation because all were ranked in the top 15 on selection day, are half of the top-20 golfers in Rio.

Open championship winner Henrik Stenson, Spanish number 11 Sergio Garcia and British major winners Danny Willett and Justin Rose are the others.

"It's not going to be easy to win this thing," Fowler said. "We're going to have to play well. But we're the only country that has a chance at a podium sweep so that's kind of cool."

The promise of silver and bronze medals could impact shot selection late on Sunday more than it might at a regular event when near-miss winners matter less.

"If I'm third, I'm going to make sure I don't go back to fourth real quick," said two-time Masters champion Watson.

Kuchar says he is sure the International Olympic Committee will keep golf beyond 2020 when it reconsiders Games events next year.

"I imagine golf is going to be a big success and it's going to be an easy one to keep in the rotation of sports," Kuchar said. "(Odd) circumstances led to guys not participating, but I think the event is going to go off great."

"Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, is a golf junkie. That speaks volumes for our sport for that guy to love it like he does."

US golfers watched US swimmer Phelps, the all-time Olympic medal king, on Tuesday and plan to catch Usain Bolt in the men's 100m final just hours after their last round.

"It's inspiring," Fowler said of Olympic spectating. "You get chills watching them when they do well."

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