America’s Xander Schauffele won the men’s Olympic golf medal during a tense final round at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan that ended with a seven-stroke, sudden death contest for the bronze medal.
Slovakian Rory Sabbatini, who switched from nationality to his native South Africa two years ago, finishes with a 10-under-par 61 to finish in silver at 17-under, while CT Pan of the Chinese Taipei finally takes the bronze on scored the fourth extra hole, and overcame it. U.S. Open champion Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Chile’s Mito Pereira and Colombian Sebastian Munoz all tied for fourth place.
Schauffele led by one stroke in the final day and extended the advantage to three strokes with a birdie-birdie start, and two more before the turn. But a flying finish from Sabbatini and a bogey for the American at 14 erased his lead as he approached the final stretch.
Schauffele hit a penalty kick on the hole after licking a ride into the bushes, catching a branch on his downhill and escaping with just one shot. There was a nervous, wandering ride on the last hole, but the world number 5 held his nerves to win a gold medal.
“I really wanted to win for my dad. I’m sure he’s crying somewhere now. I wanted this one more than any other, ”says Schauffele (27), whose grandparents live in Tokyo. ‘You try to represent your country to the best of your ability, and you also add family things. I’m probably going to have a good call with my grandparents tonight. Everyone is back home watching. I’m a little speechless now, honestly. ”
A playoff game in seven directions is extremely rare at the highest golf level and unprecedented in deciding who finishes third. But it’s the drama that offers a scramble for medals, and a shootout was needed with seven of the best in the world at 15 under par after four rounds.
Casey was the first to drop out after failing to recover from an idiosyncratic ride, with home favorite Matsuyama also falling at the first hurdle. The five remaining hopefuls could not then be separated on the par-three 10th, as all were equal.
Morikawa hit his approach on the 11th to within two feet, but Pan followed him for birdie. Pereira looks his sharp lip and McIlroy also burns the rim of the cup, while Munoz suddenly collides to leave only two players in it. The last couple returned to the 18th, but when Morikawa got a bunker, it opened for Pan and the number 208 in the world equaled him to take bronze.
After the disappointment of the playoffs, Casey reflected on his first Olympic experience. “The overwhelming feeling is pride. Great emotions, but at the same time frustration, ”he said. “It emphasized to us how much the Olympics mean to everyone.”
Casey’s GB team-mate Tommy Fleetwood trailed a fourth consecutive round of 70 to finish 16th at 11 under.
McIlroy, who is eligible to play for Team GB but represents Ireland at amateur level, was skeptical on his way to Japan but enjoyed his Olympic experience. “I’ve never tried so hard in my life to finish third,” he said. ‘This is not a position I find myself in on a regular basis. The only consolation is that this is not going to be my last chance; I’m back in Paris in three years and giving everything in my power. It’s not just another golf tournament, it’s much bigger than that, and I did not realize it when I arrived here. “