Four days ago England’s Justin Rose made the first hole-in-one in Olympics golf history. Now he owns the first gold medal offered in men’s golf in 112 years, after edging out good mate and Ryder Cup partner, Henrik Stenson, in a final round duel.
Rose and Stenson were all locked up at 15 under as they walked to the tee of the par-5 18th hole on the Olympic Golf Course.
Playing alongside them was Australia’s hope, Marcus Fraser, who mixed bogies and birdies together all day and could not stick with the leaders. His final round 72 saw him drop to a tie for fifth place, but he had a front row seat to an enthralling and historic finish.
Both Rose and Stenson adopted a conservative strategy on the 522-metre hole, as they finished short of the green in two shots and placed their fortunes in the quality of their wedge play. Stenson’s approach, perhaps struck a little fat, finished nearly 25 feet short of the hole. Rose immediately seized the advantage with a superb pitch shot from 35 metres that spun to a stop just five feet from the cup.
The recently crowned Open champion then three-putted for a bogey six to give Rose two putts for the title. He needed just one to ensure the first Olympic gold medal awarded in golf since 1904 would be hanging around his neck.
His closing birdie put the cream on a five under 67, which pushed him two strokes clear of the big-hitting Swede (68) and back into the silver medal position. American Matt Kuchar, a late inclusion into the field after the 11th hour withdrawal of Jordan Spieth, fired a brilliant closing eight under 63. It saw him not only equal Fraser’s course record opening round, but he surged into the bronze medal position at 13 under, a single stroke behind Stenson.
Rose – the 2013 US Open Champion and winner of 20 tournaments worldwide – could hardly contain his excitement after holing the final putt to emulate the 1904 feat of Canadian George Lyon in winning a gold medal in Olympic Golf. The 36-year-old raised his right fist and punched the air before hugging Stenson, his caddie, playing partner Fraser and then wife, Kate, standing in the gallery.
“It’s a dream come true,” Rose said. “I’ve been thinking about Rio for a long, long time. I’ve been dreaming about coming here for a few years now. I was hoping my ranking would allow me to compete in the Olympics.
“I came here in good form and I felt excited about competing, excited about giving it 100%. Then when I actually got down to Rio and experienced the whole vibe of the Olympics, to come out of it with a medal is incredible. To come out of it with gold is unbelievable.”
Asked how “Justin Rose, Olympic Champion, Golf Medallist” sounds, the Briton replied with a smile: “It sounds absolutely incredible.”
“I was on that last green, just sort of pinching myself and taking myself back to the quote that I had given about the Olympics all along: I hope my resume one day read: Multiple Major Champion, but let's just call it Major Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, I'd be a very, very happy man. I pretty much just need the multiple now, but for the most part, I'm there on that quote.
“It feels absolutely incredible. The whole week, I've been … I've been so focused, really, to be honest with you. I've been so into it. I've been so up for it. I've been just so determined, I suppose, to represent Team GB as best as I could, and it was just the most magical week, it really was.”
Rose, who used to be neighbours with Stenson, said he had to outduel the Swede if he was going to realise his gold medal ambitions.
“I just said today that I had to out-Stenson Stenson. I knew I wasn't going to get much from him at all. Obviously the bogey at the last only came because he had to force the putt in,” Rose said.
“But he is unbelievable. He's relentless and a great player, and I can't wait to be on the same team as him in The Ryder Cup. He's a great player and he's a great friend, and I just gave him a hug on the 18th green, he's as gracious as ever.
“I just said to him, ‘Great summer,’ winning The Open Championship, I was so pleased for him.
“There's a lot of players, majors come and go, guys win them. But almost when you're a professional golfer, very few guys are you really genuinely, genuinely happy for, and Henrik is one of them.”
Stenson, who required a trainer to work on a back spasm on the 14th tee, made only two bogies in the final round, at the 14th and 18th holes, which would prove the difference between a gold medal play-off and taking home silver.
“I didn’t make the best swings there (14th) for a little while but it wasn’t hindering me too much,” Stenson said. “But it’s not something you plan to have worked on out on the course.
“It did kind of put me out of rhythm a little bit, but I was still there till the end. It was just down to whoever made a birdie on the last, otherwise we would have been out for a play-off.”
"To call yourself an Olympian is something very special. To be an Olympic medallist is even more special. I’m very pleased that I went here. It was the experience of a lifetime." – Henrik Stenson
Stenson said he was not at his best in Rio but it was no excuse and while he would leave Brazil with a silver medal instead of gold he was still happy.
“Of course, when you're in good position to try and win, you always kind of feel a little disappointed afterwards. But at the same time, we said that all along in the Olympics, you've got some pretty good consolation prizes,” the Swede said.
“I guess if you would have told me before the week, I would have left here with a medal, I would have been pretty pleased and I managed to do that. I'm quite happy.
“I didn't feel like I played my absolute best throughout the week but I played good enough to put myself in contention and that was my goal.
“To call yourself an Olympian is something very special. To be an Olympic medallist is even more special. I’m very pleased that I went here. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
Fraser started the final round three shots behind Rose but he quickly dropped out of contention when he made bogey at the 3rd and 4th holes, as Rose and Stenson made birdies.
Then the putter, which ran so hot on the opening day, suddenly went ice cold as he missed short putts at the 7th and 8th holes. That said, he still made five birdies in the round, it just so happens he made six bogies as well.
“Suddenly my putter deserted me for a few holes,” Fraser said.
“The putts I missed were all poor putts. Normally it’s my go-to club and it’s the rest that don’t work.”
Fellow Aussie Scott Hend, whose Olympic campaign never really recovered after taking a quintuple-bogey 10 on the 10th hole during the opening round, finished in a tie for 39th.