Henrik Stenson (Silver), Justin Rose (Gold) and Matt Kuchar (Bronze) celebrate on the podium Sunday
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - For an event that suffered from a PR standpoint before it
even started (Zika concerns, rumors of poor security, and a muddled PGA fall
schedule that contributed to many of the game's top ranked players withdrawing
from the Olympic Golf competition), but by the end of Sunday, all agreed that
the first Olympic Golf event since 1904 was a huge success.
The final round on the Gil Hanse Olympic course was under perfect conditions - 80
degrees with a slight ocean breeze and a perfect "Aussie Sand Belt" like playing field
that consisted of Zoysia fairways and Paspalum greens. An epic battle for the first
Olympic Gold medal in 112 years consisted of two of Golf's titans - England's Justin
Rose versus the hottest player on the planet: Henrik Stenson. The best two players
in the field atop the leaderboard produced an instant classic that came all the way
down to final hole with the score knotted up at 15 under par.
After both drives on the last were pushed into the right edge of the fairway, each player
hit lay up shots into wedge distance. The gold medal literally came down to a 50 yard
pitch for Stenson and a 38 yarder for Rose. Drama at it's finest, exactly what the
International Golf Federation was hoping for when they brought golf back into the
summer games. Stenson was first up. He flew his approach about 6 yards short of the
hole and watched as it spun back another 10 to 12 feet - leaving a lengthy attempt at
birdie. Rose, realizing the door was open, hit a flawless shot that took one bounce and
skidded to a halt 20 inches from the cup. The 40 year old Swede made a bold attempt
to send the match (technically it was stroke play, but only on paper - this round was a 2
man battle all day) to a sudden death playoff for the Gold medal, but ran his attempt 6
feet by. After he missed his par attempt, the result was a formality. Justin Rose tapped
in his birdie and exalted in triumph as the first Olympic Golf Champion since Canadian
George Lyon in 1904 at the Summer Games in St.Louis.
Rose showed raw emotion after holing out at the last.
The story early on Sunday was the play of American Matt Kuchar who shot 63 to reach
13 under par and gain his place on the podium as the Bronze medalist. Kuchar was
ecstatic after his performance: "I've never been so excited to finish top 3 in my life,
I feel an enormous sense of pride right now."