Former world number one Inbee Park cruised to victory and Olympic Gold today at Barra de Tijuca, becoming the first Olympic Champion in Women's golf for 116 years. The recently crowned LPGA Hall-of-famer put on a putting masterclass which left the rest of the field effectively playing for silver and bronze medals on a tough windy day in Rio.
Park, 28, has missed much of the LPGA Tour in 2016 with a thumb injury, but played like she’d never missed a beat. The seven-time major champion missed a number of LPGA tournaments in 2016 including two major championships to ensure that she could compete this week, and was a cut above the field, especially on the greens. Whenever anyone threatened, as Feng did when she got to within 3 shots of Park at one point during the final round, the Korean simply dialled in the putter and made putt after putt to keep the chasers at bay.
Park shot a closing 66, featuring seven birdies, to finish at 16 under, five clear of world No.1 Lydia Ko, of New Zealand who claimed silver, with China’s Shanshan Feng a shot further back taking the bronze medal.
Feng had looked the likely silver medallist most of the afternoon, but played holes 12-17 in one over par, while others, notably Ko, advanced. The Chinese number one three-putted from the fringe of the par-five 18th green to finish at 10 under par, then watched Ko celebrate as she holed from 10 feet to relegate her to bronze.
Australia's newly crowned Olympians Minjee Lee and Su Oh will take away different memories from golf’s return to the Rio Olympics, but one thing is for sure is that they will both be even more focused to make the field in Tokyo in four years time.
The Aussie pair each looked a chance to snatch a medal at different stages of the final round, at one point it looked like nine under might make a playoff for bronze until the world number 1 Ko clicked into gear.
When Lee got to seven under par after three birdies in a row from the 12th hole it seemed the West Australian was in there with a chance of making the podium with three very "birdieable" holes to finish. However she would rue missed birdie opportunities at both 16 and 17 before making a comfortable birdie 4 at the last for a closing round of 67, a great round considering she was 2 over par through 4 holes.
Lee's fighting spirit has been there for all to see this week, she recovered from a horror start to round three to give herself a chance of a medal on sunday.
“I’m pretty happy with the result, especially after the first nine I was pretty far back,” she said.
"I’m glad I could make a couple of birdies coming in one on the last to finish on a good note.
“I probably could have made those putts on 16 and 17. But that’s golf – you’re not going to win all of them.
“But I feel good, like I’ve done Australia proud.” Lee would finish in a tie for 7th place
Oh, who also began the day at four under, went damage free through the front nine with just one birdie, a kick-in after a spectacular pitch to the lpar 5 fifth hole. The Victorian leapt into medal contention with birdies on the 10th and 11th holes and when she escaped the tough 12th hole unscathed and 7 under par, a chance of a medal was on the cards.
However at the difficult par 4 13th hole, Oh made the mistake of going long and after finding an almost impossible lie in the greenside bunker went on to make a double-bogey which all but ended her chances of a podium finish.
“I was playing really well, I didn’t do anything bad and just hit one bad shot into a really bad place that I couldn’t recover from. It was the wrong time really. It could have happened on Thursday and I’d have finished in the same place, but it just means more at that time and place."
“That was just the one place you couldn’t really go … and I went there.”
Oh eventually signed for a 70 to leave her tied 13th at five under par.
Both 20-year-olds were full of praise for the Olympic experience and expressed a hope they’ll be in similarly good form in four years when the Games move to Tokyo.
“Normally you play and move on to the next week, but this is all you’ve got. It’s different, I first thought play like another tournament, but it’s not; it’s the Olympics and it’s a special tournament,” Oh said.
“I wanted to do my best because it’s not just another week. It doesn’t come every week.
“When I had that (bad) hole and it’s not like me to get emotional, but I knew I was out of it. I wanted to finish strong and make the best of it.
“But the week overall is unforgettable – that I can call myself an Olympian is quite special. I’m already looking forward to the next one in Tokyo if I can get there again.”
The normally unflappable Lee conceded there was more pressure than a “normal” week on tour.
“You want to medal. You’re always playing for your country, but here you’re really playing for your country. It was such an honour,” she said.
“You always play for Australia, but here you’re really playing for Australia – it’s a different sort of pressure, but it feels good, playing for your whole country.”