Xander ScHotele won an Olympic gold medal he wanted so badly by overcoming more pressure than he could have imagined on Sunday.
Just as ScHotele appeared to lose his firm grip on gold, the 27-year-old American responded with two clutch putts at the end for a 4-under-67 and a one-stroke win over Rory Sabbatini. from Slovakia in a wild finish for men’s golf competition.
One was a 6 foot birdie for the head. The last was a 4 foot putt for the win.
“Just in shock,” said ScHotele. “I was trying so hard to stay calm. … But man, that was stressful. And I did that putt and it was just a huge weight that took me off my shoulders and I was very relieved and happy.
The tension made the hot air even thicker at Kasumigaseki Country Club. When the last group walked to the 18th green, nine players remained in the field for a medal.
One of them was Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, but not the medal his golf-mad country wanted for him. He was one stroke ahead when he missed a 3-foot putt on the 15th hole and never caught up. He missed a 12-foot birdie on the 18th hole for bronze.
And then he left without any medals.
Matsuyama was part of a seven-man bronze qualifier, which included Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Collin Morikawa. Matsuyama bogeyed the first extra hole and was knocked out, ending a week of high expectations.
No gold, silver or bronze. The 29-year-old Japanese star still wears a green Masters jacket.
CT Pan of Taiwan, who finished with a 63, won the bronze medal in a seven-country playoff that lasted four holes.
Matsuyama and Paul Casey were knocked out with bogeys on the first extra hole. McIlroy, Mito Pereira of Chile and Sebastian Munoz were eliminated with starts on the third hole. Pan drilled an 8-foot putt on the 18th, after Morikawa’s approach drove in the sand just before the green and left him with a long putt that he couldn’t convert.
ScHotele, whose mother grew up in Japan and has grandparents in the city who were barred from watching him due to the spectator ban, appeared to have won from the start.
Sabbatini set the Olympic record with a 61, finishing with a birdie in the fist on the 18th hole. That put him one stroke behind ScHotele, who still had two good chances to score among the six holes ahead of him on the last nine.
And then a swing changed everything.
ScHotele sent his tee shot well to the right of the fairway on the 14th par-5 and into the bushes. He had to take a one-stroke penalty just to get out, fired three more strokes to reach the green, and put down 5 feet to limit damage to a bogey.
He was tied for the lead, with Matsuyama one stroke behind.
ScHotele kept his California cool and hit the driver in a bunker on the green at the 17th hole, where the tees were advanced to create some excitement. He exploded at 6 feet and birdied to regain the lead.
A peer for gold. If only it was that easy.
Sc Chaudele sent another drive to the right, getting a good kick in the rough but blocked by the trees, forcing him to lie down near the water. At 98 yards, he hit a lob corner about 15 feet behind the pin and watched it come back to 4 feet.
He looked more relieved than delighted after the putt fell. It was his first win since January 2019, and the world No.5 player has found the perfect place to end the drought.
ScHotele had been talking about the Olympics, especially in Tokyo, since joining America’s golfing elite three years ago. His German-born father Stefan had dreamed of being an Olympian until his car was hit by a drunk driver on his way to decathlon training at the age of 20, which cost him his left eye.
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