Tokyo 2020: Rory McIlroy’s Olympic conversion complete after medal charge

CT Pan wins seven-way playoff for bronze as McIlroy and Lowry look forward to Paris

There was a touch of 'well that was mad Ted' when Rory McIlroy took off down the 18th fairway in a seven-way playoff for an Olympic bronze medal after America's Xander Schauffele and Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini has wrapped up the top two spots on the podium.

A four ball out first and a three ball following with McIlroy, Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama in it, seven golfers bringing the game into overtime for third place at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo.

It was a new experience said McIlroy, much like his first Olympic Games, which has himself and Shane Lowry in its thrall. McIlroy had only ever been involved in a four-man playoff before and never in a seven ball for third place.

The officials couldn’t even accommodate them all on the same hole, although when Casey and Matsuyama were eliminated, a five ball then hit off at the par-3 10th hole. This is the Olympics, they can do what they want.

READ MORE

“It was very interesting having to ask the rules official going down 18 who did what ahead, what do I need to do here,” said McIlroy. “So a little different and I’ll just add it to another experience I’ve had this week for the first time.”

That McIlroy was eliminated on the third playoff hole with Taipei’s CT Pan winning the bronze medal was a disappointment and along with Lowry, the two are already talking about Paris in three years’ time.

For Lowry, it was a both a hopeful and chastening experience. Not playing for money or ranking points, Lowry’s buy-in was the infectious enthusiasm of the other athletes and his own connected sense of where he comes from. That and the piercing loss he felt.

Not only those things but he recognised and understood the sacrifice of other athletes. He understood why they do it and how they suffer heartbreak in defeat.

Handling setback in the Olympic Games is a bigger consumer item that dealing with success. With the sun hammering down in 33 degrees, Lowry felt just that when he fell away after a disappointing final round of 71 that left him tied in 22nd place at 10 under par.

“I suppose I’m a very patriotic fella and I love the fact that I’m Irish and that I don’t get to compete for Ireland. This week I did and I love that, so that’s what it was about for me,” said Lowry.

“I love playing for my country and I really enjoyed it and I just want to make sure I am in Paris. I think myself and Rory had a huge chance to do something for Team Ireland this week. I keep saying we don’t produce that many medals, so it would be nice to produce another one.”

McIlroy, who shot a final round of 67 to finish on 15 under, emptied the tank to get into the playoff gang of seven and found out how golf can roll like athletics and become like the last lap of a 5,000m race. A sixth or seventh place in the bunch at the final bend can magically become a medal position.

McIlroy ripped off birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie, birdie from the fifth to the ninth holes and going down the home straight tucked in behind hoping to have a shot. A bogey on 15 stopped his race for gold. But until that point he had not let go of the idea of a gold medal.

“Ah, I was 15 under and the guys were only 17, so I still felt like I had a bit of a chance,” he said. “I wasn’t too far behind and then the bogey at 15 just sort of . . . after that, for those last few holes it was about trying to fight for a medal.

“Sabbatini had already come through there and when I birdied 17, to get it back to 15 under, I was thinking, ‘Okay, try my hardest’. Then I had the opportunity in the playoff and a seven-way playoff and it’s sudden death, it’s a toss of the coin at and unfortunately it just didn’t work out.”

McIlroy’s conversion is now complete. As he spoke he looked up at the large on-course screen shot of Pan and his caddy and wife, Yingchun Lin, and pointed out the spread of nations – USA, Slovakia, Taipei. He will leave Tokyo with a different feeling to the one he had when he arrived.

“Look,” said McIlroy. “I’ve made some comments before that were probably uneducated and impulsive, and coming here, experiencing it, seeing, feeling everything that’s going on, not just Olympic golf but the Olympics in general, that sort of Olympic spirit has definitely bitten me and I’m excited about how this week has turned out and excited for the future.”

There was an upside over the weekend for Lowry. Scenes in Portlaoise when Offaly finally returned to the winner’s enclosure with a sensational win over Dublin in the Leinster under-20 football final, their first win in the grade since 1995.

“I was there in ’95 when Clare beat us and then in ’98 when we beat Kilkenny,” said Lowry. “But we haven’t had a good day out since we got to the Leinster final in 2006 and the Dubs hammered us, and then before that in the hurling in 2000, when Kilkenny gave us a good hiding that day in the All-Ireland final.”

You are coming back from the US for just the under-20 final, he was asked.

“I am going to Memphis but I’m not just coming back for that,” said Lowry

You would though?

“If I wasn’t playing, 100 per cent yeah.”

With that they both left to jet off to the US for the St Jude Classic.