(ATR) Justin Rose dropped a short birdie putt on the 18th hole becoming the first Olympic golf champion in 112 years as the sport validates itself belonging in the Games.
Justin Rose celebrates after sinking birdie putt on last hole (ATR)
On a steamy, sun-drenched day, the final round of the four-day Olympic tournament was played in front of enthusiastic crowds culminating with a compelling finish on the par five, closing hole.
Rose of Great Britain outdueled Henrik Stenson shooting a 67 to the Swede’s 68 to win an Olympic gold medal by two strokes. Rose finished the tournament at sixteen-under par.
“It was a very surreal moment, it felt very different to any other golf tournament,” Rose, 36, told reporters about winning a gold medal. “The medal ceremony is what it’s all about and that’s what everyone is striving for in Rio.”
Stenson, 40, settled for the silver medal after a final round in which the lead changed hands between the duo of major champions on the back nine. American Matt Kuchar, 38, made a fourth round charge, ascending the leaderboard and posting the low round of the day to earn the bronze medal.
The threesome expressed the magnitude of winning Olympic medals for the first time in their lucrative pro golfing careers. The sun beamed down on the shiny medals presented by International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson and IOC executive board member Craig Reedie at an 18th green medals ceremony around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
“Great week, great experience, I’m happy to leave with a medal – I didn’t play my best, but I played good enough to be up in contention all week and to make myself and my country proud,” Stenson said.
“I can’t begin to explain to you the amount of pride I have finishing third,” Kuchar said. “Typically, you would not say that. As I got around the golf course thinking I now have got a real shot at winning a medal there was an overwhelming sense of pride that was just remarkable.”
For Rose, the gold medal compliments his one major title – the 2013 U.S. Open. Stenson’s silver medal comes during a breakout season in which he won his first major title at the Open Championship in Scotland last month. The bronze medalist Kuchar has seven PGA Tour wins and finished tied for third at the 2012 Masters.
Henrik Stenson (left), Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar celebrate their Olympic golf medals (ATR)
The trio of Olympic golf medalists, and the 57 other golf pros who competed in Rio, seemed to unanimously agree the sport deserves to be in the Olympics. The future of Olympic golf beyond Tokyo 2020 will be determined by the IOC next year.
“I’m not sure what needs to be said other than what transpired this week,” Kuchar said, asked what he would tell people about if the sport should remain in the Olympic program. “You look at the guys here this week – Henrik is playing some of the best golf of anyone in the world and Justin is certainly a world-class player. I’m just thrilled to be on the podium with them.
“It was a fantastic event with amazing support from the crowds and as far as golf in Brazil there was amazing support,” said the American golfer. “It couldn’t have gone any better for the game – it’s a clear winner moving forward.”
Rose said: “It’s very important for Olympic golf going forward - I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be a part of a great competition on Sunday afternoon with the best players in the world and it means something to them.
“I love competition on the highest level and for me that’s what the Olympics are all about,” added the British golfer.
Stenson tees off at the 16th hole (ATR)
Stenson and Rose said it was a demanding and pressure-packed afternoon as temperatures rose into the 80s Fahrenheit. However, they were reluctant to compare the Olympic tournament to the four major tournaments and their storied histories.
“It sits right alongside the U.S. Open Trophy for me for sure,” Rose said, asked where he will keep his new Olympic gold medal, while adding “I think people want to keep comparing a major championship to Olympic golf, but I don’t think they should be compared to one another.”
“It was a whole new experience for us as far as participating here and it’s been a fun one,” Stenson said. “I’m really happy I went and it’s memories for a lifetime. It’s been a nice 10 days.”
Players couldn’t help but notice colorfully adorned fans carrying flags enhancing the tournament atmosphere. Spectator attendance was larger than expected.
“There was a good Swedish contingent out there cheering for Henrik and Team GB was quite loud and proud as well,” Rose said, referring to the fans tracking the final group which also included Australian Marcus Fraser.
The one common complaint from many of the players this week were the amount of cellphones and cameras snapping pictures at inopportune times. Players were forced to back off shots as caddies and marshalls had to frequently remind fans to put the devices away and stand still.
IOC president Thomas Bach and honorary president Jacques Rogge attended the final round at Reserva de Marapendi, while also meeting with women golfers ahead of the start of their tournament on Wednesday.
The compelling final round on Sunday was the icing on the cake of what was a memorable four days for both international golf and the Olympic movement.
Check out photos from the tournament here
Written by Brian Pinelli at Reserva de Marapendi
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