Cool Rose holds off Stenson to realise his Olympic dream
Briton is golf ’s first champion since 1904 Garcia fires a broadside at absent world stars
Justin Rose, Olympic champion. Easy to say, hard for the Englishman to believe, after a duel with Henrik Stenson that stretched the senses to breaking point.
When he tapped in to finally kill off the indefatigable Swede to become not only the first British golfer to win a gold medal, but the first golfer of any nationality to win gold in 112 years, his emotions were obvious. Overwhelmed, overcome, overjoyed.
Ian Poulter would have been proud of the gusto with which his great friend punched the air, as he would have been of the “come on!” yell and the grasp of the Union Flag on his shirt. Rose then pointed his finger at the air, in honour of his late father, Ken, just as he had when he won the US Open three years ago. It meant so much.
The 36-year-old was such an appropriate winner because of the high standard of his play and, more pertinently, because of his unstinting enthusiasm for his sport’s return to the Olympic fold. Amid all the rancour and recrimination, Rose never wavered in his desire to represent his country at these Games. At the start of the week, he declared that Stenson was the favourite and he knew he would have to succeed where Phil Mickelson so gallantly failed at the Open last month. Rose’s conviction was irresistible.
“I was on that last green, pinching myself and taking myself back to the quote I gave about the Olympics: ‘I hope my resumé one day reads ‘major Champion and Olympic gold medallist’,” Rose said. “I went out today saying I had to ‘out-Stenson’ Stenson. The whole week, I’ve been so focused, so into it, so up for it. I was so determined to represent Team GB as best as I could. It was just the most magical week, it really was. I’m bursting with pride.”
Stenson played such a part in this nail-biter and the silver was the very least he deserved. There was a fleet- ing moment when Matt Kuchar, the fast-finishing American, threatened to gatecrash the shootout, but essentially these Ryder Cup partners made the stage their own. They went at it from the off, trading birdies, with Stenson holing a 40-footer on the second to cancel out the overnight deficit and Rose responding with red numbers of his own. The critics said the Olympics tournament should be match play and so they were granted their wish. It became a case of who would crack first and, when Rose stood over a 15footer for par on the 14th, the doubts emerged. This would be no time to grant Stenson the advantage.
But Rose nervelessly holed out, and so after a few more back-and- forth blows they went up the parfive 18th locked on 15 under. Out of reach in two, it came down to a pitch and putt for gold and, after Stenson had come up 20 feet short, Rose stepped up for one of the shots of his life. As a 17-year-old amateur, Rose famously chipped in on the last to finish fourth at the 1998 Open and once again his aim in front of the grandstands did not err, flopping it over a mound and running it up to hole’s side.
Somewhat inevitably, Stenson forced the putt and missed the one coming back and Rose’s glory was assured as he out-shot his pal, 6768. Afterwards an emotional Mark Fulcher, Rose’s caddie, revealed the mindset.
“Rosey saw that picture of that swimmer [Chad Le Clos] earlier in the week looking desperately at Michael Phelps as he went past him and he said we couldn’t do that, we had to keep our head down and keep going forwards, if we wanted to beat the hottest player in the world,” Fulcher said. “He wanted this so much and came of age today.”
As, in many respects, did golf as an Olympic sport. Thomas Bach and Jacques Rogge, the IOC president and his predecessor, were here to witness the gripping drama and could not have failed to have been impressed. Golf must be one of the few sports in this Games to have exceeded expectations with the attendances; sell-out crowds of 12,000 helping to make the weekend such a success.
And with two well-known major-winners slugging it out and with Kuchar making a startling run with a 63 to claim a medal for the US powerhouse, it must be hoped the TV viewing figures will also be positive to help persuade the IOC, in its review next year, to keep golf on the roster beyond Tokyo 2020. Certainly it has been possible to forget all the negativity caused by the withdrawal of Rory McIlroy and the rest of the world’s top four. Well, almost.
After his 66, to finish eighth, Sergio Garcia, taking aim at McIlroy, tweeted: “Whoever said @OlympicGolf didn’t mean anything must’ve been on drugs because this is absolutely amazing!!” Garcia tweeted. “Coming to Rio, my best decision ever!” It definitely proved so for Rose. The 1904 champion George Lyon at last has a successor – British golf ’s golden boy.
Passionate: Justin Rose shows his delight after winning gold for Great Britain