KAWAGOE, Japan – The gold medal was won by the fifth-ranked player in the world, who started the day with a one-stroke advantage.
Xander Schauffele holed a 5-foot par putt on 18 to win the Olympic men’s golf competition by a single stroke.
The other two medals? Those were decided in much more unexpected ways.
The silver went to a man playing for his adopted homeland who hit it so poorly that he ended his Sunday warmup session early. Then Rory Sabbatini went out and shot 61 in the final round to put pressure on Schauffele and ultimately win the silver medal. The South Africa-born Sabbatini, a six-time TOUR winner, was representing Slovakia. Sabbatini’s wife, Martina Stofanikova, is Slovakian and her cousin, Rastislav Antala, is the president of the Slovak Golf Association.
“South Africa has so many golfers to represent them, but Slovakia doesn’t have anybody to represent them,” Sabbatini, 45, said. “And we looked at it as a way to use it as a springboard to try and create more interest in the game of golf in Slovakia and to create more interest amongst the junior golfers.
“For me to be here today is very fortuitous. I’m just thankful to be here. But it’s been such a prideful moment to be up there to represent Slovakia and to see the flag raised. Words really cannot express it. It’s just been a fantastic experience all around for the entire Olympics and I’m just very thankful.”
Schauffele and Sabbatini were tied at 17 under par after Schauffele’s bogey on the 14th hole. Sabbatini was already in the clubhouse at that point, having signed for the low round of the tournament.
“The honest truth is I had probably one of the worse warmups I’ve ever had in my golfing career,” Sabbatini said. “I couldn’t find the golf ball and the club face to match them up at all. And to such a respect that I was like, ‘OK, I’m done warming up. It just was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll try to find it out there.’ Somehow I managed to find it. Did I think I had 10 under in me today? After yesterday, not a chance.”
Sabbatini made three birdies and an eagle, on the par-4 sixth, in his first six holes. He also birdied the eighth hole but made bogey on No. 9 to shoot 31 on the front. He made six birdies and a bogey on the back nine.
A seven-man playoff was needed to decide the bronze medal. C.T. Pan won with a par on the fourth extra hole after Collin Morikawa’s ball plugged in a bunker.
Pan was ahead of just two players after shooting 3-over 74 in the first round, but followed with 66-66-63. He prevailed in a star-studded playoff that included Morikawa, Rory McIlroy and the host nation’s favorite son, Hideki Matsuyama.
“I texted one of my good friends and I was like, ‘The struggle is real.’ So it’s quite a turnaround for this week, winning the bronze medal,” said Pan, winner of the 2019 RBC Heritage and member of that year’s Presidents Cup team. “I couldn’t even think about it … after Thursday’s round. That was a very happy ending.”