England’s Rose takes gold, Kuchar of U.S. bronze as Olympics revitalizes golf culture in Rio

Justin Rose of Great Britain, wins the gold medal during the final round of the men's golf event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016.
Justin Rose of Great Britain, wins the gold medal during the final round of the men's golf event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. AP

Great Britain’s Justin Rose became the first Olympic golf gold medalist in 112 years Sunday, beating out Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in a back-nine showdown on Rio’s Reserva de Marapendi Olympic golf course.

“It’s a very surreal moment,” Rose said. “It felt very different than any other golf tournament.”

Tied at 15-under heading into the final hole, both Rose and Stenson drove the fairway of the Par-5 18th. Both players laid up, but a chip from Rose landed 5 feet from the pin, while Stenson’s fell 23 feet short at the front of the green.

Putting for birdie, Stenson rolled his 23-footer 10 feet past the pin and missed a par putt coming back. Rose tapped in for birdie and a two-stroke win with a tournament score of 18-under, 268.

American Matt Kuchar shot a tournament-low round of 8-under 63 on Sunday to take third place at 13-under, 271.

Kuchar, who earned a spot in the tournament following the withdrawals of top-ranked Americans Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, said the exclusivity of the 60-man field in an event scheduled once every four years inspired him to join the Americans’ four-man team this week.

He added that his excitement for the chance to play in Rio contributed to his performance.

“I always wanted to be in an Olympics and I always wanted to medal,” Kuchar said. “When golf became a sport I was amazed and wanted to make the most of the opportunity.”

Bubba Watson finished tied for eighth place at 7-under, Patrick Reed tied for 11th at 6-under and Rickie Fowler tied for 37th at even par.

Rose joins Charles Sands (1900) and George Lyon (1904) as the only golfers to ever win an Olympic gold medal.

The tournament represented a big step for golf in Brazil.

Adilson da Silva, the most accomplished Brazilian golfer of all-time, reached a personal best world ranking of 215 in 2013. Playing across the South Africa-based Sunshine Tour, the Asian Tour and the European Tour, da Silva spent the better part of the last two years qualifying to represent his home country in this week’s Olympic tournament.

Da Silva, 44, teared up Thursday as he hit the Olympics’ first tee shot since 1904 into the fairway.

A native of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, da Silva called crowd support of this week’s tournament “incredible,” saying it compared only to the three British Opens he has played.

“You don’t normally see this anywhere but a major,” da Silva said. “For us it’s so special.”

His eyes welled again Sunday as he walked off the 18th green, with the majority Brazilian crowd chanting his name.

“Outstanding,” he said. “Just huge and a big step for golf in Brazil.”

For Brazilian fans at the event, Olympic golf was a popular sight at one of only three full-length golf courses in the city of Rio de Janeiro. A sell-out crowd of 12,000 spectators attended Sunday’s final round, according to Olympic officials.

Rio native Willian Cardoso, 33, said he was inspired by Tiger Woods to take up golf as a teenager, but had put his clubs down in recent years as Woods’ dominance and the sport’s popularity had declined.

Watching his first golf tournament in person, Cardoso said exposure to 60 of the world’s premier players on the highest international stage was “invigorating.” With Woods sidelined for the Olympics, Cardoso followed Rose and Stenson for Sunday’s final round.

“Brazil doesn’t have a golf culture or tradition for the sport,” he said in Portuguese. “This is very important for its popularity here.”

Uilson Andrade, 12, held a Brazilian flag and wore a white Olympic hat with autographs from Da Silva, Fowler and Germany’s Alex Cejka scribbled on its bill. Like Cardoso, Andrade had never seen a live professional golf event until Sunday, nor had he ever played the sport.

Exposure to some of the world’s best players was “interesting,” Andrade said. He added he’d want to play the sport, if he knew where to start.

“It seems like there are a lot of rules,” he said in Portuguese. “I’m not sure we have enough courses here. But this is the coolest sport I’ve seen at the Olympics.”