Olympics: Xander Schauffele wins gold at Tokyo Summer Games

Xander Schauffele proved his mettle with a hard-working closing par to claim Olympic gold, the first American to do so in 121 years.

Olympics: Xander Schauffele wins gold at Tokyo Summer Games

Gold marks the spot for Xander Schauffele.

The 27-year-old American birdied three of his first five holes to build as many as a four-stroke lead and made a late birdie to hang on to win the men’s individual stroke play competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Man, it was stressful,” he said. “And I made that putt and it was just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and just very relieved and happy, of course.”

Schauffele closed with a final-round 4-under 67 at the East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club, in Saitama, Japan, about 35 miles northwest of downtown Tokyo, for a 72-hole total of 18-under 266 and a one-stroke victory over Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini.

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the first Asian to win the Masters, had his chance to win gold in his homeland. He and Schauffele played in their first final group since April at Augusta National. Trailing by one stroke entering the final day, Matsuyama fell five strokes behind after topping a fairway wood from the rough and making bogey at the par-5 eighth hole, but didn’t go down without a fight.

“I have no energy or endurance left at this point,” said Matsuyama, who tested positive for COVID-19 only weeks prior to the Olympics. “But I kept fighting at the end with my heart.”

He closed to within one stroke of the lead late in the round, but his putter let him down. He lipped out for par at 16 and missed a birdie putt at 18 that would have earned him a bronze medal. He settled for shooting 2-under 69, good for 15-under 269, and bowed out after the first hole of a seven-way playoff for the bronze that also included Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, USA’s Collin Morikawa, England’s Paul Casey, Columbia’s Sebastian Munoz, Chile’s Mito Pereira and Chinese-Taipei’s C.T. Pan.

“I never tried so hard in my life to finish third,” McIlroy said.

It took four extra holes, but ultimately it was Pan, who shot 74 in the opening round, beating just two players before capping off a furious rally with a final-round 63 and outlasted them all for the bronze.

Schauffele overcame a jittery passage when he flared his tee shot at the par-5 14thhole into trouble, had to take a penalty for an unplayable, and his backswing on his next shot struck branches as he escaped the trees.

“It got a little dicey there,” he said. “When you’re trying to win you need some things to go your way. I took a pretty big risk trying to hack it through a bush. I missed my gap. I literally did the Matrix through these trees. Today was definitely my day.”

He salvaged a bogey, which dropped him back into a tie with Sabbatini, who erased a seven-stroke deficit heading into the final round with an Olympics 18-hole scoring record of 10-under 61. Sabbatini holed out for an eagle 2 at No. 6 and made 10 birdies, including finishing with birdies at 17 and 18.

“For a long time it seemed like it was inevitable that Xander was going to win and then all of a sudden he created some excitement for us,” Sabbatini said. “So he definitely kind of put me back on edge waiting there at the end.”

Schauffele, who was 0-for-4 when holding the 54-hole lead and was winless on the PGA Tour since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, said earlier this season that he had choked when he had opportunities to win. This time, he made a birdie at the drivable 17th hole, getting up and down from the front greenside bunker, and scrambling for par after another shaky drive at the last to end his winless drought.

“It’s like riding a bicycle,” he said. “You just don’t know until you get on and start riding it. For me, I needed to get over that hump, I needed to get a win while having a lead.”

Schauffele was a fitting champion in Japan. His mother was raised in the Land of the Rising Sun and his maternal grandparents still call Tokyo home. And it was at a Tokyo department store where his father and swing coach, Stefan, first introduced his son to the game by hitting balls in a simulator. Stefan had his own Olympic dreams shattered – that of representing his native Germany in the decathlon – when a drunk driver hit his vehicle head on and blinded him in his left eye in 1986.

“I really wanted to win for my dad,” said Xander, who hugged his dad behind the green after his victory. “I kind of wanted this one more than any other one.”

After an opening 68, he surged into the lead in the second round with an 8-under 63. Schauffele birdied the 18th hole of his third round to claim a one-streak lead through 54 holes.

With his father of German-French descent and mother born in Chinese Taipei, Schauffele credits his upbringing with giving him a resilient mentality, saying: “I always felt I was mentally tougher than the other kids.”

He proved his mettle with a hard-working closing par, sticking a wedge from 98 yards to 4 feet to claim Olympic gold, the first American to do so in golf since Charles Sands in 1900. And he did it for his dad.

“When my son stands on the podium and they play the anthem,” Stefan said, “give me a towel. That will be a get me a towel moment, for sure.”

Source : Golf Week More   

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