Tiger Woods: Olympic golf ‘deserves’ best players

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Tiger Woods

(CNN) — He won’t be there himself, but Tiger Woods says the Olympic golf tournament “deserves” to feature the world’s best players.

The former world No. 1 is still recovering from multiple back operations and is unsure when he will return. He has lamented the lack of quality in the field for Rio.

“It will be a spectacular event just because it’s the Olympics,” Woods said on the eve of his foundation’s Quicken Loans National event on the PGA Tour. “It would be better if we had a more top-heavy field.”

Golf should be reveling in its return to the Games for the first time since 1904, but fears of the Zika virus and a congested playing schedule has led to a number of top names withdrawing.

The qualifying format — four players per country from the world’s top 15, plus two players per country outside that — also devalues the competition, according to Woods.

“I know they have to try to have four guys from each country participate, but I just wish they would have had more quality of a field similar to what we face in major championships or the World Golf Championships or the Players,” the 40-year-old said.

“I think the Olympics deserve that.”

World No. 4 Rory McIlroy joined the list of absentees Wednesday, saying health concerns prompted his decision. The 27-year-old, who is engaged and keen to start a family at some stage, accepted the risk of Zika was “low” but said it was a risk he was “unwilling to take.”

Zika has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies and some cases of the muscle-weakening disease Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults.

Fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell would have inherited McIlroy’s spot on the Ireland team, but released a statement Thursday ruling himself out because his wife is due to have their second child at home in Florida shortly after August’s Games.

The 2010 U.S. Open champion, who was next in line to join Shane Lowry in the Irish team, said he made his decision “many months ago” not to travel outside the U.S. in the run-up to the birth.

Fiji’s former world No. 1 Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman have already withdrawn because of Zika, while 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott and 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen have cited scheduling and family reasons.

Leishman and Scott’s fellow Australian, world No. 1 Jason Day, has yet to decide whether to play in Rio.

“Family for me is priority number one,” said the 28-year-old, who has two young children.

“I’ve got to make sure they’re happy, then probably I’ll make the decision.”

Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth and 2016 U.S Open champion Dustin Johnson, ranked second and third in the world, are set to join fifth and sixth-ranked Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler in a strong United States team.

Golf’s return to the Games has attracted significant criticism, not least because of the cost and environmental concerns of building a new course in a financially crippled country, a lackluster 72-hole strokeplay format and the argument that the four majors remain the pinnacle of the sport.

But 14-time major champion Woods conceded that the aim of the Olympics to grow the game, especially for countries like Brazil, was commendable.

“To have two players who aren’t ranked very high but are still able to compete in the Olympics is great for the country,” said Woods, who added the USGA’s handling of Dustin Johnson’s penalty at the recent U.S. Open was “awful.”