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Once in a lifetime chance for some Olympic golfers

August 11, 2016

Longshot golfing gold medal hopefuls are shooting for a life-changing prize -- spots in the four major championships -- when the sport returns to the Olympics on Thursday for the first time since 1904.

With the world's top four choosing to skip Rio, unheralded players such as 318th-ranked Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh and Portugal's Jose-Filipe Lima, the lowest-ranked player in the field at 405th, have the chance of a lifetime.

"It's great they have given an exemption to the gold medal winner to the four majors," said reigning Masters champion Danny Willett, among this week's favorites.

"It would have been cool if they'd have offered it on a staggered scale to other majors. If you finish third, you've played great."

Olympic rules allowing only two golfers from each nation outside the top 15 (only the four-man US squad has more) and limiting the 72-hole stroke-play event's field to 60 golfers helps make the fairytale story more likely -- ousting hundreds of highly-rated rivals before the first swing.

"Anybody can win. It just depends on if it's your week," said eighth-ranked American Rickie Fowler. "You see guys ranked 200 or 300 in the world winning events. It's not going to be easy to win this thing."

With a goal of growing the game in new nations, golf could see Malaysia's 289th-ranked Gavin Green or India's 229th-ranked S.S.P. Chawrasia capture a shock gold and earn berths at next year's Masters, US and British Opens and PGA Championship.

"If I bring gold it will be mad -- honestly the people in my country are crazy," said India's 229th-ranked S.S.P. Chawrasia. "In India few people know golf but the Olympics is really very big."

The 38-year-old Indian Open winner received well wishes from India cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

"He came and said 'Good luck and try your best'," Chawrasia said.

Bangladesh 31-year-old flagbearer Rahman, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, could become his homeland's first Olympic medallist after supporting his family by working as a caddie during childhood.

"My family come from the ground," Rahman said. "As a 10, 12-year-old I was working as a caddie to support them and pay for school.

"They know I am a good player and I get to travel over the world, but they cannot really imagine my activities."

Italy's Matteo Manassero, 23, has played in 17 majors, his best result his first as the top amateur and tied for 13th at the 2009 British Open, but he has since slid from teen star to 338th in the world.

"It was tough. Some moments I played really badly. I was lost within myself," Manassero said. "I stopped at the beginning of this year for three weeks. I started to get answers for myself. I had to really go deep, it wasn't just golf."

Three top-15 European Tour finishes followed and a share of third at the Scottish Open helped him reach Rio.

"I am playing better. I feel much better, like a different person, and now I am part of the biggest event in sport," he said.

Brazil's Adilson da Silva, 44, will strike the first shot in Olympic golf in 112 years. The world 288 missed two British Open cuts and shared 69th at the 2012 British Open in his only major appearances.

"I can't say I won't be nervous," he said. "To start golf again at home in the Olympics is something I could never imagine."

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