Charl Schwartzel tees off on the 15th hole during the first round of the Houston Open golf tournament, Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Humble, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith
April 25, 2016

Charl Schwartzel of South Africa is the latest player to drop out of the Olympics, making him the fourth major champion in the last two weeks to decide against being part of golf's return after a 112-year absence.

Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's chief spokesman and vice president of the International Golf Federation, said Monday that Schwartzel notified officials late last week. The former Masters champion moved into a strong qualifying position when former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen cited family and scheduling issues for withdrawing.

Another former Masters champion, Adam Scott of Australia at No. 7 in the world, is the most high-profile player to say he would not compete this summer in Rio. Vijay Singh, the 53-year-old Fijian and three-time major champion, said two weeks ago he would not play in the Olympics.

Gary Player said he was ''sad and disappointed'' by top players withdrawing, particularly the South Africans. Player, who has won nine majors and is golf's foremost global player, is the Olympic golf captain for South Africa.

''South Africa had a great team, but now obviously, it will not be as good,'' Player said in a statement. ''Players withdrawing hurt the game of golf. I was sorry to hear that Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have withdrawn their names from consideration. They have been playing outstanding golf lately. This certainly impacts South Africa's chances to win a gold medal.

''No doubt they would have made our team even stronger.''

Each country is allowed no more than two players until the field for Rio reaches its limit of 60. Countries are allowed up to four players if they are in the top 15 of the world ranking by July 11.

Branden Grace, who won at Hilton Head two weeks ago, is the highest-ranked South African at No. 11. Schwartzel not playing means Jaco Van Zyl at No. 59 is the most likely candidate to replace him. George Coetzee is next in line at No. 85.

Scott is the second-ranked Australian (behind Jason Day at No. 1) and his spot most likely would fall to Marc Leishman, who lost in a playoff at the British Open last year.

Singh not playing means Fiji will not be represented in the men's competition.

While the cutoff to qualify through the world ranking is July 11, all current candidates on May 6 go into a registry pool for stringent drug testing, which includes giving their whereabouts for out-of-competition testing.

Golf was last part of the Olympics in 1904. The IOC in 2009 voted golf back into the program, assuring it a spot for this year's Games in Rio and in 2020 in Tokyo. But a vote in 2017 will determine if golf stays beyond 2020.

Key to golf's success is getting the top players, and the top three - Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy - have indicated they are playing.

''Golf is one of the most popular sports in the world and our best players should be showcased on the biggest stage in sports,'' Player said. ''Luckily, we will still have four more years to make sure the best players see the importance and commit to play in Tokyo, Japan.''

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