Xander Schauffele won the Olympic men’s golf tournament on Sunday by one shot from surprise silver medallist Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia.
Taiwan’s C.T. Pan then took the bronze more than an hour later after an epic seven-man playoff which stretched over four agonising extra holes.
The American world number five finished on 18-under par 266 after carding a 67 while veteran Sabbatini, 45, shot a stunning, course-record 10-under par final round of 61.
Overnight leader Schauffele got off to a fast start and had reached 18-under by the turn, but struggled to extend his advantage on the back nine.
He dropped a shot at the par-five 14th to fall into a tie with Sabbatini, the clubhouse leader, but restored his slender advantage at the 17th.
A wayward drive at the difficult 18th left him with only a lay-up out of trees before he got up and down under immense pressure from 80 yards to secure the gold.
“I was trying so hard to just stay calm,” said Schauffele.
“Hit a terrible drive on 18, had to make a sort of sloppy par and fortunately hit it close enough to sort of have a high percentage putt at roughly four, five feet.
“But, man, it was stressful. And I made that putt and it was just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and just very relieved and happy.”
The South African-born Sabbatini came into the Olympics ranked 204 in the world and with little form this year, having missed his last four cuts on the US PGA Tour.
“It doesn’t sound like it belongs to me,” admitted Sabbatini of his silver medal.
– ‘Golden egg’ –
“But crazy game this sport we play. So somehow found that golden egg today and I managed to get something achieved which I didn’t think was possible after yesterday.”
He had not won an event on the PGA Tour since the 2011 Honda Classic and his best showing in a major was tied second at the 2007 US Masters.
He is one of only 41 athletes in the Slovakian team and the only golfer.
His Slovakian wife Martina was his caddie this week and Sabbatini spoke of his pride at representing his adopted country.
“It’s fantastic. We started this journey, four, five years ago, but the sole purpose of it was to generate future generations of Slovak golfers,” said Sabbatini who switched nationalities on the PGA Tour in 2019.
“It’s not exactly the prime sport for kids… to go play in Slovakia, so hopefully we can inspire future Olympians and future professionals.”
There was agony for home supporters in the bronze playoff when Japan’s US Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama fell at the first hole, the 18th, along with Paul Casey.
Three more players were eliminated on the third play-off hole, the par-four 11th, including former world number one Rory McIlroy, leaving British Open champion Collin Morikawa and Taiwan’s Pan to go head-to-head back down the 18th.
Pan was in the left rough off the tee and could not find the green but Morikawa fared worse, burying his approach into the steep face of a greenside bunker for an almost impossible ‘fried egg’ lie.
He did explode it onto the green but was left with 25 feet for par which he could not make.
Pan chipped on to 12 feet and sunk the putt, punching the air in delight before being doused in watery celebration by his ecstatic Taiwanese team-mates.
© Agence France-Presse