Justin Rose is one round away from winning golf’s first Olympic gold medal in 112 years.
Rose did a little shimmy when his 10-foot par putt on the final hole Saturday swirled in the back side of the cup for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead over British Open champion Henrik Stenson going into the final round – the medal round – at Olympic Golf Course.
It’s not a two-man race, even if it felt like one.
Rose was at 12-under 201 and had the lead after Stenson narrowly missed a birdie putt and had to settle for a 68, capping a day in which he poked a caiman with the end of his wedge in the water to the left of the 10th hole.
Marcus Fraser, the leader after the first two rounds, stumbled to a 72 and was four shots out of the lead.
“It’s like a lot of other sports,” Rose said. “You work hard to get into the finals. It’s about a great performance tomorrow.”
Rose, the U.S. Open champion three years ago at Merion, is used to playing alongside Stenson when the competition is more about flag than money. They were partners in the Ryder Cup in 2014 at Gleneagles, winning all three of their matches for the European flag.
That won’t be the case Sunday. It will be Britain against Sweden, with other countries still looking to break into contention.
Bubba Watson kept American hopes alive with a 5-under 67 that featured his own surreal moment. Watson had a 30-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, but when he took his putter back, a clump of mud dropped to the ground. Watson tried to stop his stroke and failed, so the ball traveled only about 6 feet.
He still wound up with a 67 and was in the group six shots behind – and three shots out of a medal – along with Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and David Lingmerth of Sweden, both of whom shot 68. They were at 6-under 207, with Matt Kuchar and Padraig Harrington another shot behind.
Rickie Fowler had the low round of the blustery day with a 64, though he remained nine shots behind.
Rose was four shots out of the lead to start the second round, but not for long. He holed a 75-foot pitch for eagle from just short of the third green, where the tees were moved up to make it a 285-yard hole into the wind. Then, he hit 7-iron to 15 feet on the downwind, par-5 fifth hole and made that for another eagle. He took the lead for the first time with a 35-foot putt from off the 12th green.
Stenson’s day was exciting because of a wedge, just not for a shot that he played with it.
Walking along the edge of the water on the par-5 10th, he spotted a caiman – a small crocodile in these parts – and reached over to poke it with the end of his wedge.
“It was a little lob wedge,” he said. “If it was twice the size, you probably needed to go to a longer iron.”
He wound up making birdie on that hole, and two birdies late on the back nine kept in range of Rose.
For all the talk about the stars who stayed home, this is just what golf needed in its return to the Olympics. Stenson is coming off the lowest score in major championship history when he won the British Open at Royal Troon, among the greatest final rounds played. He is No. 5 in the world, the highest-ranked player in the field.
Rose is another major champion at No. 12 in the world, slowed by a back injury in the middle of his season, but excited about the Rio Games. He was part of opening ceremony and kept busy in the week leading to the golf competition, going to other sports, spending time in the gym with Britain’s other athletes and soaking it all in.
The only thing better would be leaving with a gold medal.
“It would mean an awful lot,” Rose said. “You see what it means to the other Olympic athletes. Once a guy slips a gold medal around his neck, we’ll all understand how important it is.”
Republished with permission from the Associated Press.