RIO DE JANEIRO — Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson know what it’s like to play next to each other on a big stage when it’s all about flag and the gold prize. That was two years ago at the Ryder Cup, and they were undefeated as partners.
They will be rivals today, playing under their own flag, each pursuing golf’s first Olympic gold medal since 1904. Rose made two eagles in the opening five holes yesterday and did a little shimmy after making a 10-foot par putt at the end for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead over Stenson going into the final round — the medal round — at Olympic Golf Course.
After 112 years away, golf finally gets the feel of being in the Olympics when medals are awarded. “It’s like all the other sports,” Rose said. “You work really hard to get into the final, and tomorrow is about a great performance and bringing your best golf when you need it.”
Rose was at 12-under 201, a slim margin over Stenson considering the Swede is a month away from his some of the best golf ever played when he won the British Open at Royal Troon with the lowest 72-hole score in major championship history.
Stenson had another 68, his best moment with a wedge in his hand — but not for a shot he hit. Walking along the edge of the water on the par-5 10th hole, Stenson spotted a caiman — a small crocodile in these parts — and reached over to poke it with the end of his golf club. “A little tickle with a lob wedge,” Stenson said. “I thought it could handle that, and if it would have been twice the size, then you probably need to go into the longer irons. He wasn’t too big. He was facing the right way for me.”
He wound up making birdie on that hole, and two birdies later on the back nine kept him within range of Rose.
Marcus Fraser, the leader after the first two rounds, hit into a bunker on four straight holes early on and wound up with only one birdie in his round of 72. He was still alone in third place.
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 forward stroke and failed, so the ball traveled only about 6 feet. “It was the funniest thing ever,” Watson said. “I thought it could have been a bee or a bug. I looked down and I was like, ‘That’s mud. Where it come from?’ Mud putter . . . We laughed about it because I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to be famous now. I’m going to be a legend in Olympic golf history.”’
Watson shot 67 and was at 6-under 207 with Emiliano Grillo of Argentina and David Lingmerth of Sweden.