Golf makes spectacular return to the Olympic stage
As golf made its first appearance at an Olympic Games for 112 years, the men’s tournament developed into an almighty tussle between Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Great Britain’s Justin Rose, with the latter clinching victory on the final hole. Meanwhile, Inbee Park of the Republic of Korea secured the first women’s Olympic golf title since Margaret Abbott’s victory in Paris in 1900.
The men’s golf tournament at Rio 2016 got off to the perfect start on the Olympic course at Barra de Tijuca on 8 August when Great Britain’s Justin Rose sunk an incredible hole-in-one on the par three fourth hole. “When you’re the first to do something, nobody can ever take that away from you,” Rose commented. “That was definitely a cool moment.” However, despite sealing his place in the history books early on with that 172m shot, the winner of the 2013 US Open was far from finished at the first Olympic golf tournament for 112 years.
At the end of the first round, Australia’s Marcus Fraser found himself in the lead after carding an eight-under-par 63, four shots ahead of Rose in fourth place. Fraser maintained his lead in the second round as he moved to ten under par – posting a total score of 132 – with Rose still four shots back. In the third round, however, Rose propelled himself to the top of the leaderboard with a 65. Holding a single-shot advantage over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, the stage was set for a gripping finale on 14 August.
Taking to the course alongside Fraser in the final round, the European pair soon pulled away from the Australian, allowing world number five Stenson, the highest- ranked player in the competition, and Rose, the world number 12, to fight it out amongst themselves. When the Briton missed a two-metre putt on the par four 13th, Stenson took full advantage to sneak ahead. His lead did not last long, however, as the Swede, who won the last British Open, bogeyed the following hole to allow England’s Rose to restore parity with a five-metre putt.
Then, on the 15th, Stenson misjudged his second shot while Rose struck a sweet approach to set up an easy putt to take back his lead. The 16th saw another twist as Stenson tied things up once again. The Swede landed his second shot within feet of the pin to place pressure on Rose before the Briton failed to sink a challenging seven-metre putt after his own second stroke had gone astray. With both players securing par on the 17th hole, the back-and-forth continued to the final hole of the final round.
Heading down the last, Stenson ended up slightly off target with another approach while Rose set himself up with an easy putt for the win. Visibly shaken, Stenson eventually needed three putts to finish his round with a bogey only for Rose to calmly sink his birdie putt before punching the air in celebration.
“Oh my God, that felt better than anything I’ve ever won,” Rose exclaimed, clearly overjoyed. “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,” concluded Rose, who had made history by becoming golf’s first Olympic champion since 1904, when Canada’s George Lyon won gold in St Louis.
Clearly disappointed, runner-up Stenson admitted that he had been unable to produce his best form as the thriller reached its conclusion. “It was always going to be tough, and it came down to the last few shots,” he explained. “Justin was the better player today. It was a fantastic atmosphere.” American Matt Kuchar finished third, three shots behind Rose.
Park follows in Abbott’s golden footsteps
Inbee Park, one of the outstanding members of a hugely talented Republic of Korea female golfing contingent at the Rio 2016 Games, lived up to the hopes of her nation by becoming the first women’s Olympic golf champion since the USA’s Margaret Abbott claimed the only previous women’s golf gold on 4 October 1900.
Just under 116 years later, Inbee Park produced a stunning performance to ensure that her name would join that of Abbott’s in the pantheon of female golfing greats. Leading the way from the end of the second round on (she was just one shot behind Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn after the opening round), Park shot a five-under-par final round to finish five shots ahead of the chasing pack. New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko took home the silver medal while China’s Feng Shanshan, the world number 14, sealed bronze a further shot back.
Typically reserved on the course, Park allowed her emotions to shine through on the final green, throwing her arms skyward as her final putt dropped in and sealed victory. “I have won many tournaments but I have never felt this before,” the former world number one confided, adding an Olympic title to an already-impressive list of honours that includes seven majors.
“I feel extremely honoured and proud to have won a gold medal in the Olympic Games,” Park said. “It’s really incredible. I’m so happy to climb up to that top step of the podium.”
Representing the only nation to boast four players in the women’s golf tournament in Rio, Park’s dominant victory confirmed the Republic of Korea’s current international supremacy. Lydia Ko, herself of Korean origin, never really troubled the leader in the final round but sunk a birdie at the 18th to avoid a perilous playoff with China’s Feng.“At the end of the second day I wasn't in the greatest position [22nd place and seven shots behind Park],” admitted the 19-year-old Ko. “But playing well in the last two days has led me to this point. I am so proud of myself and the team for getting this silver medal! It is a huge honour.”