Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson lead battle for gold medal
Pádraig Harrington moves into share of seventh position as Séamus Power slips back
Britain’s Justin Rose reacts after sinking a putt from under a bush behind the 12th green during the third round of the men’s Olympic golf competition. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters
Rose, who combined with British Open champion Stenson to win all three of their matches at Gleneagles in 2014, carded a third round of 65 in Rio to finish a shot ahead of the Swede, with Australia’s Marcus Fraser two shots further back.
Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington moved up to a share of seventh position after carding a four-under 67 to move to five under but Séamus Power’s challenge faded on the back nine as four bogeys saw him sign for a three-over 74 as he slipped back to one under and a share of 26th spot.
Rose began the day four shots off Fraser’s lead at Reserva de Marapendi but vaulted to the top of the leaderboard thanks to two eagles in the space of three holes.
After following a birdie on the first with a bogey on the second, Rose chipped in from 25 yards for an eagle on the short par-four third and then holed from 18 feet for another on the par-five fifth.
That took the world number 12 into the lead and he moved two clear with another birdie on the 12th before rebounding from a bogey on the 14th with birdies at the next two holes.
“It would mean an awful lot to win, especially when you see what it means to other athletes here,” Rose said. “It would be unbelievable.”
Stenson also eagled the fifth in between dropped shots on the fourth and eighth, before three birdies on the back nine gave the 40-year-old a 68 and boosted his chances of adding a gold medal to the Claret Jug he won in record-breaking fashion at Royal Troon.
Asked what he would tell the players who opted out of the Games – including the world’s top four of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy – Rose added: “I would just tell them I had a great time, a positive experience and a lot of fun.
“It’s a unique experience and something you should be able to make room for in your schedule once every four years.
“The atmosphere is more like a Ryder Cup than a Major but it’s more unique than either of those two. You can’t compare it to anything else.”
Stenson won his first Major title at Royal Troon and finished seventh in the US PGA Championship just 14 days later, a result of the condensed schedule caused by golf’s return to the Olympics after an absence of 112 years.
He then had only 10 days to recuperate before the start of the men’s competition in Rio and admitted that could be a factor in Sunday’s final round.
“It’s been a long stretch for me and I’m just trying to squeeze out what I have left in the tank,” Stenson said.
“It’s still in my mind we are going for one thing, even though the consolation prizes might be better here than in some other events. It’s still number one that I’m going for.”
And Watson could be left to rue a bizarre incident in his second successive 67, the two-time Masters champion carding a bogey on the 14th when he had a birdie putt from 30 feet, but hit it just four.
“That was the funniest thing ever,” the left-hander explained. “At least I’m going to be a legend.
“I fixed my ball mark, took some practice strokes and when I got over it to hit it, some mud came off the bottom of my putter. I tried to stop my stroke and did not stop quickly enough and it went about four feet.”
Harrington made three straight birdies from the third in a cracking start to his third round and added a fourth at the ninth to turn in 31. Back-to-back bogeys on the 10th and 11th slowed his charge but the three-time Major winner birdied the 16th and 17th to get back into the top 10.