Wednesday 21 March 2018

Justin Rose secures golf gold in final hole drama after titanic battle with Henrik Stenson

Justin Rose (GBR) of Britain celebrates his gold medal win in the men's Olympic golf compeititon. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers
Justin Rose (GBR) of Britain celebrates his gold medal win in the men's Olympic golf compeititon. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Phil Casey

Great Britain's Justin Rose claimed golf's first Olympic gold medal for 112 years after edging out Open champion Henrik Stenson in a thrilling final-round battle in Rio.

Rose carded a closing 67 at Reserva de Marapendi to finish 16 under par and two shots ahead of Ryder Cup partner Stenson, with American Matt Kuchar claiming bronze after a superb 63.

The outcome was only decided on the 72nd hole when Rose pitched to three feet to set up a decisive birdie and Stenson missed his attempt from long range, the 40-year-old Swede also missing the return putt for par.

That left the stage clear for Rose to tap-in and seal victory before punching the air in delight, the 36-year-old having been one of the major supporters of golf's return to the Games while more than 20 of his fellow professionals had opted out of competing.

A month after Stenson had won a thrilling duel with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon, the Olympics also effectively became a match-play contest between two of the six major champions in the 60-man field.

Rose took a one-shot lead over Stenson into the final round and there was never more than a stroke between them until the end, with both men carding three birdies in the first five holes.

A bogey on the seventh briefly cost Rose the outright lead but he responded superbly with a birdie from five feet on the next, only for Stenson to draw level again with a two-putt birdie on the 10th.

Stenson then took the lead for the first time when Rose failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the 13th, but was struggling with an injury and received treatment from a physio after hitting his tee shot on the 14th.

Having missed the green, Stenson then hit a poor chip and missed from 20 feet for par, before Rose crucially holed from 15 feet after splashing out of more sand.

That left the pair tied for the lead with Kuchar only a shot behind after a superb tee shot on the 17th set up a tap-in birdie, but Rose edged in front again with a birdie on the 15th.

Kuchar needed to birdie the last to record a superb 62 and keep the pressure on, but left his putt short from 18 feet and had to wait to see if a certain bronze could be upgraded if the top duo faltered.

There was no chance of that when Stenson pitched to four feet for birdie on the short 16th to join Rose on 15 under, but it was Rose who produced the best pitch on the par-five 18th to secure a famous win.

Waterford's Seamus Power had been in a tie for seventh at one stage but he fell back in his back nine and eventually ended up in a tie for 15th on -5.

Padraig Harrington was two shots further back in a tie for 21st.

"It feels absolutely incredible," Rose said.

"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 and Olympic gold medallist.'

"But let's just call it major champion and Olympic gold medallist, I'd be a very, very happy man.

"The whole week I've been so focused. I've been so into it. I've been so up for it. I've been just so determined to represent Team GB as best as I could, and it was just the most magical week, it really was."

Asked about his battle with Stenson after the pair won all three of their matches together at Gleneagles in 2014, Rose added: "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.

"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."

Stenson admitted he had been hampered by a back problem, but refused to use it as an excuse.

"I had a bit of an issue, my thoracic spine locked up after 13 holes and put me out of rhythm a little, but I was still there at the end and it came down to whoever made birdie down the last," he said.

"I'm pleased with my performance. 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."

Kuchar, who only got into the US team when Jordan Spieth withdrew and did not know there was no team competition until recently, said: "It's the happiest I've ever been to finish third. I'm just bursting with pride right now."

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