Despite the world's differences, there's one thread that connects mankind in the Olympics. Not the belief in a peaceful culture through the realm of athletics, or that the Games serve as a prism where winning and losing are secondary to sportsmanship. Rather, the event shows, no matter your nationality, race, creed, gender or sexuality, the thing that brings us together is...gambling. Sure, historians say the Olympics began as a religious festival to the Greek gods. If that's the case, you better believe Zeus and Hera were placing wagers on chariot races.
Better yet, for the first time since 2000, Vegas is accepting bets on the Summer Games. Failing to take advantage of this freedom is like spitting chew at the Washington Monument and wiping your face with Old Glory.
In honor of this returned liberty, here are the seven best bets, wagers and odds for the golf competition at the 2016 Olympics.
First-round leader -- Jhonattan Vegas (35/1)
Vegas comes to Brazil on a hot streak thanks to a T-4 at the Barbasol Championship, a win at the RBC Canadian Open and a respectable T-22 at the PGA Championship. The 35/1 figure is generous for the 31-year-old from Venezuela given he ranks 16th on tour in Round 1 scoring. Moreover, as you can see in the Olympic Course flyover, the layout favors one who can do work with the irons, a sentiment fit for Vegas' game (fourth in GIR). He often battles his putter, but the early word from Rio is the greens won't be especially fast (the area is prone to heavy winds, and the tournament wants to avoid a 2015 British Open scenario), negating this Achilles' heel. Keeping it together for four days to medal is a lofty ambition, yet grabbing the lead after Day 1 is definitely in reach.
Top 10 Finish -- Seamus Power (16/1)
I have few rules in life, but this is one: Never pass an opportunity to bet on a man named "Seamus Power."
The Irishman is enjoying a nice season on the Web.com Tour, in line to earn his tour card thanks to ranking ninth in earnings. He's inside the top 20 in both eagles and birdies made, illustrating the ability to post red numbers in bunches. There's also this: A third of the Olympic golf field's 60 golfers aren't considered PGA Tour-caliber players. There's a high probability at least one from this group will appear on the leader board, and our pick is Power.
Top American -- Patrick Reed (12/5)
Part of this stems from a process of elimination. Bubba Watson has just one top-20 finish in the past five months, and it came at a limited-field event. Rickie Fowler, after a prosperous start to the season, has more missed cuts than top 30s since the Masters. Matt Kuchar ranks second in top 10s on tour, but has been a no-show at golf's biggest events (plus, he didn't know the Olympic format until last week). In short, Uncle Sam's golf squad isn't entering Rio at full steam.
Luckily for the red, white and blue, Reed has elevated his game this summer. In his last three events -- the British Open, PGA Championship and Travelers -- Reed's worst performance was a T-13. He's eighth in strokes gained: around-the-green and fourth in putting average. Although the iron game leaves much to be desired (112th in GIR, 100th in strokes gained: approach), Reed remains our American favorite.
To medal -- Byeong-Hun An (12/1)
An is not a household name, yet he has the pedigree to make some noise in Brazil. The youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Amateur, An's professional career hasn't quite lived up to his hype; conversely, he's ranked 35th in the world and has four combined top 10s on the PGA and Euro Tours, including a runner-up finish at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He ranks 16th in driving distance-all drives, an asset that can shorten any course. The Olympics offers a platform for second-tiered names in golf to make their presence known. Look for An to cash in on this turn in the spotlight.
__72-hole match: Bubba Watson vs. Rickie Fowler (Both 10/11) __
Mentioned above, the two popular personalities haven't displayed their "A" games as of late. A deeper dive, however, reveals Fowler hasn't been as bad as his box scores state. The 27-year-old ranks sixth in strokes gained: tee-to-green and around-the-green, and seventh in strokes gained: total. And while his putting has been all over the place in 2016, it's also a vice that shouldn't rear its ugly head at the Olympic Course. On the other end of the spectrum sits Bubba; aside from his driving ability, Watson's game has been a mess. He's particularly struggled with his short game (112th strokes gained: around-the-green) and avoiding the big number (192nd in scrambling). He does offer a higher upside than Fowler, but the bottom is too deep for us to venture on Watson. Fowler is the head-to-head pick.
Winning nationality -- Europe (1/2)
I'm not proud of advocating against the homeland, particularly at an intriguing 10/3 figure. Unfortunately, betting with your heart, not your mind, is a losing formula. The Euro lineup is not only viable -- such as Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello -- but deep, with half of the Olympic top 25 rankings coming from the continent. Although it doesn't offer a huge payout, it's a safe investment. Especially because the winner will be...
Gold medal -- Martin Kaymer (14/1)
Kaymer's game has been rejuvenated, logging top 10s at the BMW PGA Championship, Open de France and the PGA Championship. He's proven himself on the sport's premier stages with two major wins, and, as he displayed at Baltusrol, his short game is on point (T-4 in strokes gained: putting). If you're looking for a name outside the Stenson/Fowler/Sergio/Rose group, Kaymer is your guy.