Race for Olympic places hotting up
 Nine golfers played the first round in a test event on the Olympic Golf Course in Barra da Tijuca on March 8 (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)

Nine golfers played the first round in a test event on the Olympic Golf Course in Barra da Tijuca on March 8 (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)

St. Patrick's Day celebrations may be upon us with still a couple of weeks to go until Easter, but for Irish golfers it's all about planning  the big opportunities of the year and one of the most important dates for 2016 is the Olympic Games in Brazil.

The event begins on 5 August with golf teeing off on 11 August for men and 12 August for women. Qualification is still possible for those hoping to represent their country and at the moment some big names are looking to the list constantly updated by the IOC to see if they still feature to play at the luxurious venue of Barra da Tijuca.

Olympic golf format

The format is four rounds of strokepla over four days for both men and women. The scores for each round count equally with the overall winning competitor having the lowest aggregate score.

Should there be a tie for any of the medal positions, there will be a play-off or multiple play-offs to determine the podium places. 

Groups of three will play all rounds off the first tee. Groupings will be announced at least 48 hours before the first round. When it's time for the third and fourth rounds, cumulative score will be used to determine the groupings; those in the lead will be the last to tee off.

Qualification system

Athletes are currently jostling for the coveted places in the Games as the IOC has reduced the field to a total of 60 players each for both the men's and women's competition.

The official world rankings will be utilised to create the Olympic rankings as well as eligibility. Those at the time of selection who are the top-15 in the world will automatically qualify but there's still a limitation in that there can only be four players from any one country in these top slots.

Past the top-15, eligibility is based on the number of players a country already has, so the places are going to be hotly sought after and upcoming tournaments around the world during spring and early summer will all count with the cut off coming after the Open Championship at Royal Troon in July.

 Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman, Sports Minister George Hilton, IGF president Peter Dawson and Brazilian Golf Federation president Paulo Pacheco at the new golf course (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)

Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman, Sports Minister George Hilton, IGF president Peter Dawson and Brazilian Golf Federation president Paulo Pacheco at the new golf course (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)

In the running to represent Ireland

For the men, Rory McIlroy is currently second in the Olympic rankings with only America's Jordan Spieth above him so he is guaranteed to be teeing off in the first round in August.

Shane Lowry is 15th so whilst he only just takes one of the automatic places, he's the only other Irish player in the top 60 and will be heading to Brazil unless he is overtaken by the likes of Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington or another Irish player over the next few months.

It's the same scenario for the women playing for Ireland. There are two who've made it onto the IOC list with Stephanie Meadow coming in at number 43 and Leona Maguire a few places below her at 46.

Winning a medal will be tough with the formidable Lydia Ko of New Zealand at the top of the table followed by Inbee Park of Korea and Lexi Thompson of the USA.

But there's always the chance of an upset in any golf event so the eyes of Ireland will definitely be watching their representatives and willing them on to reach the finals.

Golf betting online (find more information on that page here) is already seeing the first wagers being made and for those with foresight they will be already be predicting who will make it into the Olympic history books this summer