RIO DE JANEIRO — Justin Rose delivered a gold-medal performance in golf worthy of a 112-year wait.
In a final round Sunday so tense that no one led by more than one shot, Rose won on the last hole with a 40-yard pitch to 3 feet for birdie and a 4-under 67, giving him a two-shot victory over Henrik Stenson to win the first gold medal in golf since 1904 in St. Louis.
And the 36-year-old from Great Britain, already a major champion, showed how much it meant.
As the final putt fell into the cup, Rose thrust his fist into the air and popped the British crest on his shirt before turning to embrace Stenson. He raised both arms, pumped his fist again and took a bow.
"The reality is incredible. The reality hasn't sunk in," Rose said. "The whole week, I've been so focused. I've been so into it. I've been up for it. I've been just so determined, I suppose, to represent team GB as best as I could. And it was just the most magical week."
Matt Kuchar of the United States closed with a 63 to win the bronze.
Stenson already faced one duel this summer at Royal Troon to win the British Open with the lowest score in major championship history. But deep in the round, the Swede's said his spine locked up on him. He was stretching on all fours on the 13th and a physiotherapist worked on him at the 14th, where a poor chip cost him the lead. The 40-year-old kept firing away, however, tying Rose with a pitch to 4 feet for birdie on the 16th.
They were tied coming to the final hole, fans lining both sides of the fairway, exactly the moment and atmosphere golf needed to make a good impression on the International Olympic Committee.
Stenson's pitch from 50 yards came up short, just over 20 feet away, and then Rose delivered what amounted to the winner. Knowing that Rose was in tight for birdie, Stenson rammed his birdie putt some 7 feet by the cup and missed the par putt, giving him a 3-under 68.
"He made a birdie and I didn't, and that's why he's got a gold medal and I got a silver," Stenson said.
It's not nearly as valuable as silver claret jug from Royal Troon, but still special.
"We said that all along in the Olympics, you've got some pretty good consolation prizes," Stenson said.
Kuchar started the final round seven shots out of the lead and provided his own thrills. Kuchar went 6 under during a six-hole stretch he capped off with a 15-foot eagle on the 10th hole to get him in the mix, and his wedge to 2 feet for birdie on the 17th put him one shot behind.
He failed to birdie the 18th, however, and Stenson and Rose at that point were two shots ahead facing birdie chances down the stretch.
"I can't explain the pride to you that's just busting out of my chest," Kuchar said.
And to think he wasn't even booked for Rio until a peculiar set of circumstances. He holed a 12-foot putt on his final hole of his last tournament before qualifying ended to secure No. 15 in the world, and then got in when Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth pulled out.
Rose is the first gold medalist in golf since George Lyon of Canada won against a field of mostly Americans.
Golf organizations lobbied hard to get the sport back into the Olympics, only for some of the biggest stars — including the top four in the world — to withdraw in the month leading up to the Rio Games for reasons that ranged from fears over the Zika virus to security.
The 60 players who came, dressed in their country colors and team bags — and three medals at the end of the week — showed what they were missing.
"This is one of the greatest golf trips I've ever been on," said Bubba Watson, who had planned to stay in private housing until moving into the Olympic Village on Tuesday because he didn't want to miss out on the experience.
Even better was seeing a teammate make his way to the medal stand.
"We're asked to play for our country and he pulled us through today," Watson said. "I'm so proud he got the bronze."
The lasting memory of golf's return was Rose and Stenson going toe-to-toe for more than five hours before a sellout crowd (capped at 12,000 tickets), neither with more than a one-stroke advantage until it was over. And there was Rose at the end, wildly pumping fists as British fans waved the Union Jack around the 18th green.
He won the U.S. Open at Merion three years ago. Rose said he always wanted his career to be remembered for multiple majors.
"But let's just call it major champion and Olympic gold medalist," Rose said. "I'd be a very, very happy man."
This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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