The Olympics are a big stage event, so it should not have been a shock to anyone that American Xander Schauffele was in the championship mix. The world No. 5 has found himself consistently in contention at majors, posting eight top 10s in the last 14 that have been held.
However, representing his country in Tokyo, Schauffele was able to do what he has not quite been able to do in majors yet: close.
With a 4-under 67, Schauffele was able to oust a ridiculously-hot Rory Sabbatini to finish at 18-under, nabbing the coveted gold medal in the process. With golf just returning to the Olympics in 2016 after over a century away, Schauffele’s gold medal was the first for the U.S. since Charles Sands won at the 1900 games in Paris with rounds of 82 and 85.
Sabbatini, the oldest player in the field at 45 years of age, claimed the silver medal for Slovakia, shooting an unconscious 10-under 61 to finish one back of Schauffele. Ranked 204th in the world rankings, Sabbatini began the final day in a share of 17th place, and even took the lead late, until a birdie-par finish for Schauffele locked in the first two positions.
As for the bronze? The chase for third place was a special kind of competitive. Taiwan’s C.T. Pan, who appeared done after opening with a 3-over 74, shot an 8-under 63 on Sunday to reach an epic seven-man playoff.
Great Britain’s Paul Casey and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the latter being the reigning Masters Champion, were eliminated from bronze contention on the first playoff hole. The third playoff hole knocked out Chile’s Mito Pereria, Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz, and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who was representing Ireland.
That left Pan and American Collin Morikawa, a 24-year-old who already has two major championships, including last month’s Open Championship.
Playing the 18th hole, the fourth playoff hole, Morikawa bogeyed after a horrific lie in the sand, while Pan calmly sunk his par putt to win the bronze. Ranked 208th in the world, Pan came into the week missing his last three PGA Tour cuts, the third time this season that he has missed at least three in a row.
Back to Schauffele, the San Diego State product held a one-stroke 54-hole lead over Matsuyama. Schauffele has four career TOUR victories, but none in majors, and he was 0-for-4 in his PGA Tour career when holding the lead after three rounds.
Schauffele exploded out of the gates with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2, and looked like he would coast to victory after reaching 4-under through eight holes.
Schauffele, though, stagnated from there, with seven pars and a bogey over his next eight holes, allowing Sabbatini to join him atop the leaderboard, and bringing about the “here we go again” vibes.
However, Schauffele was able to compose himself, showing little in the way of nerves on the last two holes en route to the gold medal. It was especially meaningful for Xander, whose father and grandfather had injuries derail their Olympic dreams in other sports.
Sabbatini’s inclusion in the Olympic field was somewhat controversial. He is a native of South Africa, but applied for, and was granted Slovakian citizenship in 2019, as Slovakia is his wife’s native country. Regardless, Sabbatini’s Sunday was the round of his career.
Finishing one stroke out of the bronze medal playoff was Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, Australia’s Cameron Smith, and Denmark’s Sepp Straka, the latter of whom held the solo first-round lead after opening with an 8-under 63.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Final-Round Leaderboard: Top-10
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 4)
1. Xander Schauffele -18 (-4)
2. Rory Sabbatini -17 (-10)
3. CT Pan -15 (-8)
3. Collin Morikawa -15 (-8)
3. Rory McIlroy -15 (-4)
3. Mito Pereira -15 (-4)
3. Sebastian Munoz -15 (-4)
3. Paul Casey -12 (-3)
3. Hideki Matsuyama -15 (-2)
10. Joaquin Niemann -14 (-6)
10. Sepp Straka -14 (-3)
10. Cameron Smith -14 (-5)
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 4)
13. Corey Conners -13 (-6)
14. Abraham Ancer -12 (-3)
14. Viktor Hovland -12 (-7)
16. Tommy Fleetwood -11 (-1)
16. Thomas Pieters -11 (-3)
16. Alex Noren -11 (-4)
22. Justin Thomas -10 (-6)
22. Patrick Reed -10 (-6)
22. Shane Lowry -10 (E)
42. Carlos Ortiz -5 (+7)
51. Marc Leishman -2 (-2)
What Winning the Gold Medal Means For Schauffele
The hard-fought, emotional victory for the 27-year-old could provide much-needed confidence on the major championship stage.
Schauffele has continuously gotten himself on major leaderboards, but has not quite been able to finish out front, having at least one top 10 in all four majors, including each of the past five U.S. Opens. He especially showed nerves down the stretch at April’s Masters Tournament, where he stumbled early, and then got back into the mix before sending his tee shot on the par-3 16th into the water. He finished in a tie for third.
On the season, Schauffele has three runner-ups, and four other top 10s. He has not won on Tour since taking the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January of 2019.
Other Olympic Stars on Sunday
Sabbatini was the obvious star of the day, and Pan was phenomenal in getting himself in position to medal, but they weren’t the only two who went low on the final day at Kasumigaseki. Matching Pan’s 8-under 63 was Morikawa, who exploded up the leaderboard after looking like a long-shot to medal through three rounds.
The 24-year-old Tour superstar was bogey free in his final round, and carded birdies on four of his final six holes to make the bronze-medal playoff.
Of the seven in that playoff, Morikawa outlasted everyone except Pan. At third in the world rankings, Morikawa became the highest-ranked player in the field after world No. 1 Jon Rahm had to withdraw earlier in the week due to his second positive COVID-19 test in the last two months.
Sunday’s biggest riser was Norway’s Viktor Hovland, who eagled the par-4 17th before adding a birdie on 18 to shoot a 7-under 64. The 23-year-old moved 18 spots up the final leaderboard, from T32 to T14.
The Americans had four players in the field, the most of any country, with Schauffele and Morikawa finishing in the top three. The other two, world No. 4 Justin Thomas and former U.S. Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed, were never able to get into the championship mix. However, both closed with a 6-under 65 to finish in a tie for 22nd place.
The 68-65 weekend should have been especially encouraging for Thomas, who has been in a surprising funk since winning THE PLAYERS Championship.
Sunday’s Stumbles at the Olympics
Ireland’s Shane Lowry has had an impressive 2021 season on the PGA Tour, with just one missed cut in his last 17 starts, and top 10s in strong-field events like the PGA Championship, THE PLAYERS Championship, and The Memorial. He did his country especially proud when he won the 2019 Open Championship by six strokes in Northern Ireland.
Lowry was playing well early in Tokyo, and was just four off the lead heading into Sunday, but he stumbled out of the round 4 gates, and found himself 3-over through 9 holes. He did not card his first birdie until 14, which he followed up with birdies on 16 and 17, but it was too little too late, and a pedestrian even-par 71 dropped him from T7 to T22.
Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz was on a PGA Tour hot streak from November through February, and even notched his first career victory at the Vivint Houston Open. His 2021 has been largely a struggle since, but he was able to put that behind him with a tremendous first three days in Tokyo, and at 12-under he was in third place and just two behind Schauffele.
The 30-year-old stayed in contention early on Sunday, playing his first eight holes in 1-under. Disaster struck for Ortiz on the back nine, though, and after he played his final four holes double bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey, he finished the day with a field-worst 7-over 78.
That dismal close dropped him from T3 to T42.
Of two players with the second-worst Sunday, Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes was a surprise struggle, given that he contended at the last two major championships. Hughes was de-railed by a double bogey on 6, and then carded four back-nine bogeys on his way to a 4-over 75 that dropped him from T17 to solo-50th.
Means a Lot!
“It means a lot. We’ve done these interviews after rounds where they’re not the most fun thing, but we always talk about learning from them, and doing good things so we can share moments like this.”
– Xander Schauffele, U.S. Gold Medalist