Rose's win is victory for golf's future

Britain's Justin Rose celebrating clinching the golf gold medal. The sport's return to the Games was overshadowed by numerous high-profile withdrawals, but the enthusiastic support the competition received in Rio has raised hopes that golf could beco
Britain's Justin Rose celebrating clinching the golf gold medal. The sport's return to the Games was overshadowed by numerous high-profile withdrawals, but the enthusiastic support the competition received in Rio has raised hopes that golf could become a fixture on the Olympic calendar.PHOTO: REUTERS

Briton's battle with Stenson brings eventful competition to a climax, despite absentees

RIO DE JANEIRO • The Olympic Games have not seen anything like this so far. Tom Daley has shown some skill from tee to green gloop at the diving, but the return of golf comprised a stellar duel, an on-course massage, an alligator in the water hazard and a sold-out crowd of 12,000 fans.

Love it or loathe it, nobody could say that it was boring.

Justin Rose became the first Olympic champion since insurance salesman George Lyon walked on his hands to the victory ceremony 112 years ago.

That was a true good walk spoiled. This was riveting sport as two Major winners traded blows for five hours. It was in doubt until the penultimate pitch shot from Rose landed two feet from the flag.

That final birdie, allied to a bogey from Henrik Stenson, took him to four-under 67 for a 16-under 268 and the gold by two strokes.

"It was a magical week," said 2013 US Open champion Rose. "It felt like a cross between a golf tournament and a carnival, unique, incredible. Hopefully, we've shown Brazil what golf is all about."

Low expectations meant golf always had a chance to make up ground here. The world's top four players had chosen to stay away.

Jordan Spieth said that he had wrestled with his decision and that it was the hardest of his life. Rory McIlroy sidestepped the introspection and said that it was easy.

At last month's British Open, he said he would be watching "the stuff that matters" like "diving".

The duel was close if nowhere near as tense as the homeward stretch of a Major. The scores were level until the 13th, when Rose missed a short putt.

Advantage Sweden. Stenson then received an on-fairway massage because his back locked up, lying face down on the turf. He got up and failed to get down in par.

What ensued was a great contest. Rose found another birdie. Holes were running out. Then he fluffed a wedge and Stenson had a four-footer to tie the lead. He made it.

They were level going down the last, a par five. Rose's 40-yard pitch was the mortal blow. Stenson took three putts. Anyone thinking this is trivia to the players should have seen one of golf's more reserved characters fist-pumping and clutching his shirt in joy.

It is also worth remembering that not all the world's best in all sports are here. Olympic selection quotas mean that six of the top 20 sprinters in the world were ineligible for the 100m too.

"Golf has done enough to stay at the Olympics," Sergio Garcia said.

"The guys who didn't come will probably have seen it and realised they should have."

Golf has certainly been an unexpected success. Rose got a hole-in-one in the first round and an enthusiastic crowd watched him play the final stroke.

Stenson, meanwhile, had prodded a caiman, a small alligator, with a club on Saturday. It almost resembled a PR plan to mock those golfers who had stayed away because of the mosquitoes. The Swede had dismissed such Zika-fuelled excuses, saying he was more afraid of bears.

Garcia, failing to win even a minor major tournament, took a photograph of a capybara, a local rodent. The American Patrick Reed spoke about the respective fighting abilities of coral snakes and boa constrictors. It has been an obstacle course like few in sport.

Golf had arguably its finest duel of all at Royal Troon last month when Stenson played sublimely to fend off a revived Phil Mickelson. This was small beer next to the Claret Jug, but it was not flat and the glass is half-full.

Matt Kuchar, the American who had turned up blissfully ignorant of the format, had a wonderful round that was two inches short of a 62, a score yet to be achieved in a Major. He made do with the bronze. "I wish I could bottle this up and do it all the time," he said.

Whether they feel they have missed out is not the point. For a sport that many felt had sounded its own death knell, the past four days have provided a bear hug.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Rose's win is victory for golf's future'. Print Edition | Subscribe