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British golfer Justin Rose made not one but two pieces of history at Rio 2016: not content with recording the first ever hole-in-one at the Games, he went on to become the sport’s first Olympic champion in 112 years.
Justin Rose took just a couple of holes to make his mark at the first Olympic golf competition since 1904, scoring a hole-in-one at the 189-yard par-3 fourth on the Barra da Tijuca course in Rio.
“When you’re the first to do anything no one can ever take that away from you,” he said in typically understated style after achieving something no other player had done in the history of the Games. “That was definitely a cool moment.”
Rose went on to card a 4-under-par 67 on the opening day, leaving him fourth on a leaderboard topped by Australia’s Marcus Fraser, who lay four shots ahead on -8. It was to prove a solid platform for victory for the British player.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rose moved to the UK with his parents when he was five. He took up golf shortly afterwards and announced himself to the world in finishing fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, a placing sealed by a memorable chip-in from the rough at the last.
Promptly turning professional, Rose cut his teeth on the European Tour, though he had to wait until 2002 to record his maiden tournament victory. Five years later he won the European Tour Order of Merit title and forced his way into the top ten of the world rankings.
After helping Europe retain the Ryder Cup in 2012, Rose lifted the 2013 US Open trophy, becoming the first British winner of a major since Nick Faldo in 1996. The following year Rose turned in a brilliant performance as Europe retained the Ryder Cup once more, contributing four points out of a possible five.
Speaking before he represented his country in Rio, Rose said: “It’s an opportunity to create a bit of a legacy in the game by winning the first Olympic gold for a 100 and something years. I see it as an opportunity. To me the Olympics is about the best of the best competing against one another. I see it as an incredible opportunity to do something different, something cool, something that will always stand alone.”
With his early hole-in-one, Rose certainly did do something different. Entering fully into the Olympic spirit, he enthusiastically shared his joy at being part of the British team on social media and congratulated his compatriots for their excellent results.
Mindful of his own bid for glory, Rose moved to -6 after the second round, still four shots adrift of the frontrunning Fraser. The Briton then shot a third-round 65 to jump to the top of the leaderboard at -12, with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson just one shot behind and Fraser three off the pace in third.
The three leaders partnered each other for the final round, though Fraser quickly dropped out of contention, leaving the Swedish world No5 and the British world No12 to fight it out for gold. Swapping the lead in a suspenseful duel, the pair were locked together at -15 as they went up the 18th, at which point Stenson hit a wayward approach to hand Rose the initiative.
While a disgruntled Stenson took three putts to get down, a jubilant Rose needed just the one, his birdie taking him to -16, two shots clear of the Swede. Matt Kucher of the USA shot a 63 – the best round of the final day – to finish a further stroke back in bronze.
“Oh my God, that felt better than anything I’ve ever won,” said Rose, Olympic golf’s first champion since Canada’s George Lyon at St Louis 1904. “It’s been the best tournament of my life. It felt like a cross between a golf tournament and a carnival. It was unique, incredible! Coming up with that at the last hole when I needed it was magical. Hopefully we've shown Brazil what golf is about. I’m glad it was close. Not for my nerves, for golf!”