by Ronan MacNamara
Rory McIlroy. By Golffile
American Xander Schauffele produced a gallant finish to edge out Slovakian Rory Sabbatini and claim the gold medal at the men’s Olympic Golf tournament on an enthralling final day at Kasumigaseki Golf Club.
Rory McIlroy suffered heartbreak on the second playoff hole as his birdie attempt agonizingly lipped out from eight feet ending his bid for the bronze medal before CT Pan edged out Collin Morikawa to earn his place on the podium in extraordinary circumstances.
There was disappointment for Shane Lowry who fired a level par 71 to end the week on ten-under as his bid for an Olympic medal will go on for another four years at least.
The 2019 Open champion made the turn in three-over to end his chances, but he recovered with three birdies coming home to cap off a fine effort overall.
Schauffele shot a final round 67 to end the tournament on 18-under having edged his way in front after a birdie on his penultimate hole.
The 27-year-old raced to the turn in 32 after four-birdies in his opening nine before a bogey on 14 looked to have handed the initiative to Sabbatini.
When he has appeared to be lacking a certain gusto or cojones in the past, Schauffele showed that perhaps he is ready to take the next step in next seasons majors after he displayed immense mental fortitude to get up and down for par on 18 having had to pitch on to the green for his 3rd shot.
Xander Schauffele by Golffile
For a long time, it looked like it was going to be Rory Sabbatini donning the gold medal at the end of the day after a sensational final round 61 catapulted the 45-year-old to seventeen-under and into the lead.
The oldest man in the field was pipped to the post but will take home his country’s third ever medal and he also set a new Olympic scoring record, bettering the previous record by two.
A remarkable achievement for a country with only 9,000 registered golfers and 26 courses and it told as the six-time PGA Tour winner lifted his wife Martina Sofanikova in elation screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The race for bronze ended in dramatic circumstances, as many as seven players could not be separated after 72 holes resulting in a playoff.
Rory McIlroy after a final round 67, was joined by Collin Morikawa, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and CT Pan on fifteen-under as they headed down the 73rd hole in two groups of three and four.
After driving it in the fairway bunker and laying up McIlroy made a superb par to join Munoz, Pereira, Pan and Morikawa in the second playoff hole after Casey and home favourite Matsuyama were eliminated with bogey fives.
To the par-3 10th the remaining five headed and you could feel the tension from thousands of miles away as all five made par-3s to take the race for bronze down the 74th.
The four-time major winner hit his tee shot in the mayor’s office down the 11th to put the pressure on his opponents as he confidently strutted down the fairway in trademark McIlroy style donning the famous grey of Ireland?!
Morikawa responded with a towering iron shot to kick in range as did CT Pan who wasn’t giving up easily.
Having won four majors so far in his career, McIlroy was to suffer the pain of Olympic heartbreak as his birdie attempt agonizingly lipped out from eight feet leaving Morikawa and Pan to battle it out down the 75th.
The advantage seemed to be with Morikawa with Pan buried in the left hand rough before there was another dramatic twist in the pendulum.
Pan could only bail out left before Morikawa came up short from the fairway leaving his ball plugged in the face of the greenside bunker.
To the Open champion’s credit, he was somehow able to gouge it out onto the green.
Unable to make his par from distance, the stage was set for CT Pan who drained his par putt from 6-feet to win an eighth medal for Chinese Taipei at the Olympics this year.