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Golf's First Gold Medal In 112 Years Is Won By Britain's Justin Rose

Justin Rose of Great Britain (right) edged Henrik Stenson of Sweden on the 18th hole to win a gold medal in Olympic golf Sunday. The match was played at the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
Scott Halleran
Getty Images
Justin Rose of Great Britain (right) edged Henrik Stenson of Sweden on the 18th hole to win a gold medal in Olympic golf Sunday. The match was played at the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.

Justin Rose of Great Britain has won the first Olympic gold medal in golf since 1904, after holding off Sweden's Henrik Stenson on Sunday. The two traded shots throughout the day in a tight finish to men's golf in Rio de Janeiro.

The title came after a day of great shots and near-misses for both Rose and Stenson, who played together in the final group. At one point, a playoff seemed inevitable in the first medals tournament for golf since it was reinstated as an Olympic sport for Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.

With the 18th-hole grandstands in his sights, Rose led by a stroke on the 15th, but he narrowly missed a putt that would have kept pressure on Stenson, leaving him to watch as Stenson sank his own short putt.

The two were tied when they reached the 18th, and that's where Rose's shot for the green landed just feet from the pin, drawing cheers from the gallery. Rose recorded a 4. In contrast, Stenson was unable to hole a long putt, and his next attempt also drifted off, leaving him to book a 6 and take the silver medal.

Matt Kuchar of the U.S. used a meteoric rise to win the bronze medal, taking a solid third place. Recording a field-low 8 under par on the day, Kuchar played in an earlier group at the Olympic Golf Course, a links-style course that was constructed especially for these Summer Olympics.

"it was an amazing day," Kuchar said of his comeback.

He added that he had extra motivation to get out of fifth place — a slot that, in the Olympics unlike the PGA Tour, means you take home nothing.

His mentality, Kuchar said, was to keep making birdies and see where he wound up on the leaderboard.

"I can't begin to explain to you the amount of pride I have finishing third," he said.

He added that it's not something he would normally say.

"We all showed up here to claim the gold medal," he said. "Justin was the man this week."

After his win, Rose said he agreed with something Stenson said to him on the podium — that it felt "surreal" to be in an Olympic medal ceremony.

His new gold medal, Rose said, "sits alongside the [U.S.] Open trophy, for sure."

In a press conference, Stenson was asked about the back-and-forth play between him and Rose — and the health of his back.

Flashing his sense of humor, Stenson said, "There's a lot of backs in that question... so I'll throw one 'back' at you" — drawing laughter from the journalists in the room.

Stenson admitted that his back affected his play a bit; it's been ailing recently, and during today's round he needed a visit from a physiotherapist.

But Stenson said he was content to have fought for an Olympic medal.

"If it couldn't be the gold, I'm quite happy with the silver," he said.

Kuchar said that on Saturday, he had gone to fellow Americans Jack Sock and Steve Johnson's men's doubles bronze match, and he'd noticed how those players were elated by their win.

With his own bronze finish, Kuchar said his main response was "I get to wear the jacket," a reference to the podium gear players don especially for medal ceremonies. "It's a cool jacket," he added.

In the final tally, Rose was 16 under par for the tournament, followed by Stenson at 14 under and Kuchar at 13 under.

As for other Americans, Bubba Watson tied for eighth after going 1-under today, while Patrick Reed shot a 7-under to get into a tie for 11th place. Rickie Fowler shot 3 over, for a tie in 37th place.

With the men's final completed today, the women's tournament will begin next week, and as the final group of male players made their turn on the back nine, several female golfers were already on the course, trying to get a feel for its manicured grass and expansive — and often deep — bunkers.

In Brazil, a country not known for its love of golf, a large and enthusiastic gallery followed the leading players around the course, cheering their tee shots and groaning when their putts went awry.

By the afternoon, the grandstand at the 18th hole was near capacity, and the audience there welcomed the returning players with cheers, particularly when they holed tricky putts to close out their Olympics.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.