01 Aug 2021 | Professional golf |

Round 4 | Schauffele wins gold as Smith falls short

by Dane Heverin

Cam Smith coming off the 18th green in the final round of Tokyo 2020.

Xander Schauffele held his nerve in a tense final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club to win the Olympic gold medal.

The American did not relinquish his overnight lead as he shot a four-under par round of 67 to finish -18 and one stroke clear of Slovakian Rory Sabbatini.

Sunday was full of incredible storylines with Schauffele claiming the biggest win of his career, Sabbatini shooting an Olympic record round of 61, a dramatic seven-way playoff for bronze and Australian Cameron Smith’s bid for bronze.

Schauffele has finished top-10 in every major, including top-3 finishes at every major bar the PGA Championship, but was yet to break through in a big tournament until today.

A few wayward tee shots, including having to take a drop on the par-4 14th, made it look like the American might let his lead slip.

However, he was not to be denied.

He birdied the 17th hole to move one shot clear of Sabbatini and held on for par on the 18th despite having to chip back onto the fairway after another stray drive.

Competing in the Olympics - let alone winning gold - brought immense pride to the Schauffele family after Xander’s father Stefan had his Olympic dreams taken away from him.

Stefan was preparing to represent Germany in the decathlon at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games when a terrible collision with a drunk driver ended his dream.

He is now Xander’s mental and swing coach and an important part of the gold medal victory.

Earlier in the day, Australian fans were glued to their televisions or devices following Cameron Smith’s brilliant five-under par round of 66 which placed him T10.

The 27-year-old, with “AUS” emblazoned on the side of his head, embodied the Australian spirit by showing tremendous fight throughout his round of eight birdies, three bogeys and seven pars.

His first birdie of the day came at the par-4 third courtesy of a brilliant putt from 8.71m.

A bogey at the next hole was a hiccup, but he then proceeded to birdie five, six and seven and Australians fans began to believe that the unlikely could be done.

Another great birdie putt at the 10th - this time from 13m - and a classy shot from the fairway bunker on the 11th to set up birdie had fans cheering from their couches.

The nerves intensified as he backed up those birdies with a bogey at the 12th - his flop shot hit the flag and it would have been a birdie had it dropped.

“I hit such a good drive down the middle of the fairway - to make a pretty soft bogey like that was a bit crappy - and then to miss the short putt on the next hole, I knew it was going to be hard work from there,” Smith said.

A trio of pars to follow left him needing to attack the home stretch.

On the par-3 16th, he put his tee shot to within 3 metres and knocked in the birdie putt.

He then went after the drivable par-4 17th and made a nice up-and-down for birdie to be 15-under par.

It would prove to be the number that would have secured him a spot in the bronze medal playoff - one shot less than Smith predicted.

A missed putt from just over two metres on the 18th - this time for par after putting his second shot from a fairway bunker over the back of the green - put an end to his chances.

It was the second time that Smith came unstuck on the 18th this week - he made a double bogey on Friday when his ball ricocheted off the grandstand steps and ended up in the pond 50m away.

“It didn’t suit my eye all week,” he said of the final hole.

The nature of the Olympic tournament also left him with a very different feeling to normal. 

“If I had walked off the 18th green there in a typical PGA round, I’d genuinely be pretty happy,” he said. 

“But it’s a bit of a different feeling - obviously a bit bummed to end it like that.”

Regardless, Smith loved the Olympic experience.

“It was better than I thought it would be,” he said.

“It would have been great to have the crowds out here - especially the Japanese crowds, they go nuts for golf - it would have been such a cool experience.

“But we had a great week - it would have been nice to go and watch some other Aussies events - but it’s been such a cool week and it’s always good to put on the green and gold.”

Meanwhile, Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini came from the clouds to win the silver medal.

The 45-year-old’s ten-under round of 61 was two strokes better than Sepp Straka’s, Xander Schauffele’s, Matt Kuchar’s and Marcus Fraser’s rounds of 63 to set a new Olympic record.

Sabbatini, who began representing Slovakia - the home country of his wife and stepson - in 2019 after previously representing South Africa, remarkably carded ten birdies and an eagle in his ten-under par round.

The pressure of suddenly being in medal contention looked to have got to him when he missed the par-3 16th green to the left and was disgusted with himself as he made bogey.

He responded with a birdie on the 17th, but his most impressive golf of the day came on the final hole.

A nice drive found the fairway and left him 185m to the hole.

He proceeded to put his approach shot to 3.68m from the hole and sink a clutch birdie putt to enter the clubhouse at -17.

The bronze medal was won by C. T. Pan of Chinese Taipei on the fourth playoff hole against American Collin Morikawa.

Pan sunk a clutch par-putt on the 18th green after Morikawa could not salvage par from a terrible lie in the greenside bunker.

The playoff began with seven players tied at -15 - the PGA Tour has never had a playoff with seven players involved - and they were gradually whittled down in remarkable fashion.

The first to be eliminated were Great Britain’s Paul Casey and Japan’s own Hideki Matsuyama when they bogeyed the 18th.

The bronze decider continued as one group of five players for another two holes before birdies to Pan and Morikawa knocked out Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Columbia’s Sebastan and and Chile’s Mito Pereira.

Further down the leaderboard, Australian Marc Leishman saved his best round of the tournament for last.

The Victorian shot a two-under par round of 69 to finish his maiden Olympic Games at two-under par and T51.

All week Leishman has attempted to channel the Olympic spirit of Sanka Coffie from the cult classic film Cool Runnings and he did so today by kissing his golf ball for good luck on the first tee.

Early in his round, it seemed to have worked.

Leishman sunk a 7.42 metre birdie putt on the par-4 second and made another birdie at the par-5 fifth, before a double bogey at the par-3 seventh undid his early good work.

As he has done all week, Leishman fought back from his mistakes and immediately followed it up with a birdie at the par-5 eighth.

A bogey came at the 12th, but back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th by nearly driving the green on the 314m par-4 17th and putting his approach shot on the 18th to 2.13m from the hole to finish his campaign strongly.


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