When the final round of the men's golf tournament at the Tokyo Olympics began, former Cal standout Collin Morikawa seemed to be hopelessly out of medal contention.
He was seven shots off the lead, but more significantly he was tied with 10 other golfers for 17th place. Too many golfers to pass, it seemed.
However, Morikawa, who had won the British Open two weeks earlier, had his best round of the Olympic tournament Sunday (Saturday night in California) and gave himself a chance.
Morikawa, the pre-tournament betting favorite, fired an 8-under-par 63 in the fourth round to finish regulation at 15-under.
It was not good enough to catch American Xander Schauffele, who won the gold medal by finishing at 18 under par, or Rory Sabbatini, who represented Slovakia and earned the silver medal by finishing at 17-under after carding a 10-under-par 61 in the fourth round.
But it was good enough to tie six other golfers for third, leading to a wild playoff to determine which golfer would win the bronze medal. So at about 20 minutes past midnight in the Pacific time zone, Morikawa, C.T. Pan, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama trudged out to the 18th hole for a playoff.
They went off in two groups, with Morikawa joining Pan, Munoz and Pereira in the first group and McIlroy, Casey and Matsuyama playing together in the second group.
Matsuyama and Casey were eliminated on the first extra hole when both bogeyed while the other five made par. That compressed the five remaining golfers into one group.
All five players parred the second playoff hole, and Morikawa appeared destined to win the playoff on the third extra hole, when he nearly holed his second shot, setting up a tap-in birdie.
Pan followed with a second shot that wound up nearly as close to the hole as Morikawa's. Both converted short putts for birdie to eliminate the other three players and reduce the playoff field to two.
“Normally with five guys with wedges in their hands, two are going to make birdie,” Morikawa said of Pan negating Morikawa’s near-eagle dunk. “It happens.”
On the fourth extra hole, No. 18, Pan's second shot landed just off the green. It provided an opportunity for Morikawa, who was in the short rough with an iron in his hand after his tee shot. Considered by many the best iron player on the PGA Tour, Morikawa had a chance to land his second shot close to the hole for a birdie try and a win.
It was not to be. As soon as he struck his shot, Morikawa could be heard saying, "Go, go, go." His ball cleared the water but landed in a greenside bunker, almost completely buried in the sand. The ball plugged in the upside lip of the bunker, leaving him with a nearly impossible lie.
Forced to use an awkward uphill stance, with his left foot more than two feet higher than his right, Morikawa blasted out and onto the green. But he was well short of the hole.
He missed his long par putt, and when Pan made his par putt, the golfer from Chinese Taipei had the bronze medal as clocks in California approached 2 a.m. ( 6 p.m. in Tokyo).
"I've never been in a playoff with that many people, seven people for one spot, which is pretty crazy," Pan said. "And if you look at the field in the playoff, we got Rory McIlroy, Collin, we got I don't know two, three top-10 guys in the world. And we got me, 200 ranked, shooting [3-over] on Day 1, didn't know what to do on Thursday. But anyway, I mean I just told myself, just keep my head down, hit one shot at a time and then I just reminded myself just to keep joking with my wife [who was his caddie]."
Women's water polo
---Former Cal star Anna Illes scored two goals in Hungary's 11-9 loss to China in a Group B women's water polo game.
---Rising Cal senior Kitty Lynn Joustra scored a goal for The Netherlands in its 16-12 Group A win over Canada, which featured three Cal players. Former Golden Beat Kelly McKee scored a goal for the Canadians, and Emma Wright, who has one season of eligibility left at Cal, and 2018 Cal grad Kindred Paul also played for Canada but did not score.
Canada, Hungary and The Netherlands all advanced to the women's quarterfinals, scheduled for Tuesday (late Monday night in California).
Cover photo of Collin Morikawa blasting out of the sand is by Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports
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