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Rory McIlroy agonisingly misses out on Olympic bronze medal in marathon play-off

The Irishman was knocked out on the third hole of a dramatic shoot-out in Tokyo.

Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt.
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed putt.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Updated Aug 1st 2021, 9:50 AM

RORY MCILORY MISSED out on an Olympic bronze medal in agonising fashion, falling at the third hole of a dramatic third-place play-off. 

McIlroy was among a group of seven golfers to tie for third place after four rounds, but he fell at the third hole of a marathon edition of sudden death. Needing to sink from 10 feet for birdie to guarantee himself another hole, McIlroy saw his putt slip to the right of the hole and lip out. 

Colin Morikawa and CT Pan then putted for birdie to knock the Irishman out of the running, with Pan holding his nerve on the fourth hole to win the bronze medal for Taiwan. 

American Xander Schauffele endured a late wobble to take home gold, finishing one shot clear of Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini, who marched up the leaderboard with an astonishing final-round 61, which included a bogey on 17. 

“I have never tried so hard in my life to finish third”, said McIlroy afterwards. “I gave it my all out there, played the last two holes in regulation really well. Thought I played well in the play-off, good par on 18 to keep it going and I had a good chance on the third play-off hole but it just slid right. 

I’m proud of how I played this well and how I competed, I will look back at this week with nothing but great memories. It’s been brilliant. It’s not just another golf tournament, put it that way. You’re part of something that’s much bigger, and I’m really looking forward to Paris in three years time.”

McIlroy was one of seven golfers to tie for third at 15-under, along with Masters champion and hometown favourite Hideki Matsuyama, Open champion Collin Morikawa (USA) plus Paul Casey (GB), CT Pan (Taiwan), Sebastian Munoz (Colombia) and Mito Pereira (Chile). 

He came agonisingly close to winning bronze without the need for a play-off, leaving a birdie putt on his final hole inches short of the hole. He then faced an anxious wait in the clubhouse, but Matsuyama and Casey both missed birdie putts on 18. 

Viewers were not treated to the chaos of all seven golfers playing together, and instead were split into a four and a three according to the order in which they teed off. 

Morikawa, Pan, Munoz and Pereira were first to tee off on the par-four 18th, and all made par; Morikawa missing a presentable putt. 

McIlroy teed off with Matsuyama and Casey, and his gamble in trying to carry a right-hand bunker backfired, as he left his tee shot in the sand. That led to a lay-up onto the fairway, but from there he salvaged par immaculately: hitting his iron shot to within 12 feet and holding his nerve with his putter. At that point, Matsuyama and Casey were the first two fallers: an errant tee-shot cost Casey, while Matsuyama made a hames of his iron shot from the fairway, sending the ball skidding into the rough at the back of the green. 

Next up was the par-three 10th: McIlroy’s tee shot came up just short of the pin and rolled agonisingly to the fringe of the green. The other quartet all landed on the green…but none could putt for birdie, with CT Pan rolling his inches too short. McIlroy held his nerve to two-putt for par, as did all of the others, meaning the remaining quintet then trooped toward the par-five 11th hole.


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Morikawa’s tee shot was shortest, but he then plucked the shot of the play-off to lay down the gauntlet to those left standing, stitching an iron shot from the fairway to within a foot of the flag.

Morikawa tapped in for birdie and Pan responded in kind, with the pair sending the play-off to a fourth hole. 

McIlroy, meanwhile, left himself 10 feet for birdie, but saw his putt agonisingly burn the edge of the hole and miss. 

rory-mcilroy-with-shane-lowry-moments-after-missing-a-putt-to-get-knocked-out-of-the-bronze-medal-play-off Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy just after the latter was knocked out of the bronze medal play-off. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Earlier, Shane Lowry failed to contend. In spite of coming into his final round just four shots behind Xander Schauffele, he shot 71 to finish in a tie for 22nd. 

“I am very disappointed, to be honest. I went out there to do a job and I didn’t do it”, Lowry told RTÉ Sport. “It’s tough to take. I really wanted to win a medal for everyone back home. I had visions of bringing it home and seeing everyone at home, so it’s disappointing.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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