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Justin Rose Edges Stenson for First Golf Gold Since 1904

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Britain’s Justin Rose became the first Olympic golf champion in 112 years Sunday, outdueling Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in a tension-packed final-round thriller Sunday for a historic gold medal at Rio.

The 36-year-old Englishman pitched the ball 18 inches from the cup on the par-5 18th hole and sank the birdie putt to beat Stenson by two strokes for the greatest triumph of his life.

“Oh my God. That felt better than anything I’ve ever won. It was the best tournament I’ve ever done,” Rose said.

“Coming up with that last pitch when I needed it was magical.”

Rose fired a closing four-under par 67 to finish 72 holes on 16-under 268. Stenson, whose poor chip left him a near-impossible putt to stay level with Rose, closed with a bogey to take the silver on 270, one stroke ahead of US bronze medalist Matt Kuchar.

“I have no regrets. I did as well as I could,” Stenson said. “I battled pretty well. It was going to come down to who finished better at the end.

“To be an Olympic medalist is something special. It was the gift of a lifetime coming here.”

An event dimmed by the decisions of more than 20 players to stay away, including world number one Jason Day of Australia and the entire world top four, provided plenty of excitement and spectacular shotmaking as the gold hung on a knife’s edge all day.

“It felt like a cross between a golf tournament and a carnival,” Rose said. “It was unique, incredible.”

Just a month after fifth-ranked Stenson won his first major title at last month’s British Open in a final-day battle with American Phil Mickelson, he found himself locked in a similar fight with 12th-ranked Rose, the 2013 US Open champion.

“I didn’t really think too much about what happened in the past,” Stenson said.

At the par-5 18th, Stenson was shy of the green with his approach while Rose was left of the green with bunkers between, the gold fight down to a pitch and putt contest.

Stenson’s ball hit the green and spun back from the cup, 22 feet away. Rose hit his amazing wedge shot and Stenson ran his birdie attempt eight feet past the hole, then missed his comeback putt and made bogey.

Seconds later, Rose tapped in for gold, raised his right fist into the air and then used it to tap the Team GB logo on his shirt over his heart.

“I wanted to let go a little bit, maybe display how much it meant. I had been holding it in all day,” Rose said.

“This is just a dream come true. To come out of it with a medal is incredible. To come out of it with gold is unbelievable.”

“To be an Olympic medalist is something special. It was the gift of a lifetime coming here.”

– Kuchar matches Olympic mark –

Kuchar, ranked 20th, emerged from a host of contenders to take the last podium spot by firing a 63, matching the Olympic record set in round one by Australian Marcus Fraser. Neither would have been an Olympian had their top-four compatriots attended.

“I barely qualified,” Kuchar said. “To get the bronze medal around my neck is such a thrill. The overwhelming sense of pride is just remarkable.”

The stroke-play last round felt more like a match-play showdown just as it was in 1904 when Canadian George Lyon took the prior Olympic crown.

Rose held off Stenson over the front nine but Stenson birdied the 10th to leave them level. Rose made bogey at 13 but Stenson hurt his back on the 13th tee and needed treatment. At 14, Stenson made a poor pitch and made bogey while Rose sank a 14-foot par putt to pull level.

Rose birdied 15 and Stenson answered at 16 to set up the final drama.

Rose toasted his late father Ken, his first golf coach, and emotionally recalled them watching past Olympics together.

“If he was here and had a son who was an Olympic gold medalist, he would probably say, ‘What a great accomplishment,’” Rose said.

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