KAWAGOE, Japan (AP)Xander Schauffele won an Olympic gold medal he badly wanted by overcoming more pressure than he could have imagined Sunday.
Right when Schauffele appeared to lose his firm grip on the gold, the 27-year-old American responded with two clutch putts at the end for a 4-under 67 and a one-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia in a wild finish.
One was a 6-foot birdie putt for the lead. The last one was a 4-foot par putt for the win.
The tension made the hot air feel even thicker at Kasumigaseki Country Club. When the last group walked onto the 18th green, nine players remained in the mix for a medal.
One of them was Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, just not the medal that his golf-mad country wanted for him. He was one shot out of the lead when he missed a 3-foot par putt on the 15th hole and never caught up. He missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for the bronze.
And then he left with no medal at all.
Matsuyama was part of a seven-man playoff for the bronze, which included Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Collin Morikawa. Matsuyama made bogey on the first extra hole and was eliminated, ending a week of high expectations. C.T. Pan of Taiwan, who closed with a 63, won the bronze in a playoff among seven countries that lasted four holes.
Schauffele, whose mother was raised in Japan and has grandparents in the city who were kept from watching him under the ban on spectators, appeared to have this won all along.
Sabbatini set the Olympic record with a 61, finishing with a fist-pumping birdie on the 18th hole. That put him one shot behind Schauffele, who still had two good scoring chances among the six holes ahead of him on the back nine.
And then one swing changed everything. Schauffele sent his tee shot well right of the fairway on the par-5 14th and into the bushes. He had to take a one-shot penalty just to get out, took three more shots to reach the green and made a 5-foot putt to limit the damage to a bogey. He was tied for the lead, with Matsuyama one shot behind.
Schauffele kept his California cool and hit driver into a greenside bunker on the 17th hole, where the tees were moved forward to create some excitement. He blasted out to 6 feet and made birdie to regain the lead.
Schauffele sent another drive to the right on 18, getting a nice kick into the rough but blocked by the trees, forcing him to lay up short of the water. From 98 yards, he hit a lob wedge some 15 feet behind the pin and watched it spin back to 4 feet. He looked more relieved than he was elated after the putt dropped. It was his first victory since January 2019.
Sabbatini had plenty to be happy about with silver. Born in South Africa, he decided at the end of 2018 to become a Slovakian citizen through his wife, Martina, who had a relative running the tiny Slovak Golf Federation. His wife caddied for him this week.
UNITED STATES GOLF ASSOCIATION
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) – Annika Sorenstam ran away with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open on Sunday, closing with a 4-under 68 for an eight-stroke victory.
The 50-year-old Sorenstam, a three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion making her first appearance in the senior event, finished at 12-under 276 at Brooklawn Country Club.
Playing partner and fellow Swede Liselotte Neumann was second, shooting a 74. She won the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open to become the first Swedish major champion.
Laura Davies, the 2018 winner in the inaugural event, was third at 3 under after a 71.
European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew (74) and Yuko Saito (72) were 2 under.
EUROPEAN TOUR/LPGA TOUR/LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR
BALLYMENA, Northern Ireland (AP) – England’s Daniel Gavins overcame a seven-shot deficit to win his first European Tour title at the World Invitational, and Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn recovered from a triple bogey to take the women’s tournament in a playoff.
Gavins closed with a 5-under 65 to finish at 13 under. Compatriot David Horsey (72) held a share of the lead until losing a ball on the 18th following a wild tee shot to finish a shot behind in second.
Anannarukarn (70) overcame a triple bogey on the sixth hole and beat American Emma Talley (70) with a par on the second hole of a playoff. They finished at 16 under
Yuri Yoshida won the Japan LPGA’s Rakuten Super Ladies, closing with a 6-under 66 for a three-stroke victory. She finished at 18 under at Tokyu Grand Oak in Hyogo. Mamiko Higa and Sayaka Takahashi tied for second. … Oh Ji-hyeon shot a 4-under 68 for a three-stroke victory in the Korean LPGA’s Jeju Samdasoo Masters. She finished at 17 under at Wooridul. Jungmin Hong was second.