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U.S. golfers will be in medal contention despite withdrawals

The Memorial Tournament Presented By Nationwide - Round Two

DUBLIN, OH - JUNE 03: Bubba Watson watches his tee shot as Rickie Fowler watches on the second hole during the second round of The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 3, 2016 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson are out, but the U.S. will still have a good shot at collecting a few medals when golf makes its return to the Olympics next month.

Spieth, the world’s third-ranked golfer, was set to be the highest ranked player to compete in Rio. But on Monday, the last day to withdrawal, he pulled out citing health concerns. He’ll speak to the media Tuesday as he prepares for the British Open in Scotland.

Johnson, No. 2 in the world, became the first American to back out last week.

So now, Bubba Watson, at No. 5 in the world rankings, will be the top-ranked male golfer in Rio. His U.S. teammates will be Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Patrick Reed (No. 13) and Matt Kuchar (No. 15). A country can only send four players to the Olympics if they’re all ranked within the world’s top 15, and Kuchar barely achieved that ranking when he tied for third at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago.

The only other top-10 golfers to commit to Rio are Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (No. 6) and Great Britain’s Danny Willett (No. 9). Jason Day (No. 1), Rory McIlroy (4), Adam Scott (8) and Branden Grace (10) all previously withdrew for various reasons.

That leaves all four Americans within the top 10 as far as the Olympic golf rankings are concerned, and in strong contention for a medal.

Watson will be one of five major winners to compete in Rio; he won the Masters in 2012 and 2014. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington will lead the field with three majors won (2007 British Open, 2008 British Open and PGA Championship), but he’ll be ranked 43rd in Rio. Germany’s Martin Kaymer (17th in Rio) owns two major titles (2010 PGA Championship, 2014 U.S. Open).

Willett and his compatriot, Justin Rose (No. 5 in Rio), both own one major. Willett captured the Masters title in April and Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open.

Nearly as notable are the major winners opting not to compete in Rio:

Rory McIlroy – 4 majors
Vijay Singh – 3
Jordan Spieth – 2
Jason Day – 1
Dustin Johnson – 1
Adam Scott – 1
Graeme McDowell – 1
Charl Schwartzel – 1
Louis Oosthuizen – 1

Then there’s Spain’s Sergio Garcia, probably the best golfer to never win a major. He’s been a runner-up four times in majors, but has yet to break through for a signature victory. He won the Players Championship, which is widely considered golf’s “fifth” major, in 2008, but an Olympic gold could top that. Garcia will be ranked sixth in Rio.

At the other end of the rankings, No. 60 will be Mexico’s Rodolfo Cazaubon, who is No. 344 in the world golf rankings. He was awarded a berth when Angelo Que of the Philippines withdrew Monday due to Zika virus concerns.

The women haven’t had nearly the same spate of withdrawals. Only South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace has pulled out.

The U.S. women’s team will consist of Lexi Thompson (No. 4 in the Olympic rankings), Stacy Lewis (No. 9) and Gerina Piller (No. 13). The top three will be New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, Canada’s Brooke M. Henderson and South Korea’s Inbee Park.

Piller, a former Big Break contestant, didn’t clinch her spot until Sunday. She tied for eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open, which moved her to 15th in the women’s world rankings, allowing the U.S. to send a third woman.

The 60th-ranked female golfer will be New Zealand’s Cathryn Bristow, who is No. 446 in the world.

MORE: Jason Day to skip Olympics due to Zika virus