Park strolls to gold in Rio

Korea’s Inbee Park won the women’s Olympic golf gold medal with an accomplished final day performance in Rio de Janeiro. The 28-year-old closed with a sublime 66 at the Reserva de Marapendi Olympic Course to finish on 16-under-par 268, winning the first women’s golf competition since 1900 by five shots from New Zealand’s Lydia Ko.

Inbee Park - Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Inbee Park – Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Park turned the final day in front of a sell-out crowd into a stunning exhibition of brilliantly controlled golf, extending her lead from two strokes overnight into a commanding five-shot victory over world No.1 Ko, who rolled in a seven-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole for a 69 and 273 total to claim the silver medal. Shanshan Feng of China matched Ko’s closing score to take the bronze on 274.

The new Olympic champion hugged her equally emotional three Korean team-mates after holing out for a regulation par five at the 18th hole and said: “This is definitely one of the special moments in my golfing career and in my whole life. It feels great. Obviously representing your country and winning the gold is so special. It’s just really all I’ve wanted.”

Russia’s Maria Verchenova added to the excitement by smashing the course record with a nine-under-par 62, assisted by a hole-in-one at the fourth, to climb 25 places into a tie for 18th.

As a result of today’s outcome, it means that all six medals awarded in the two golf competitions have been distributed among six different nations – Korea, New Zealand and China in the women’s competition and Great Britain, Sweden and the United States in last week’s men’s contest.

Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng - Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng – Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Park’s triumph was all the more extraordinary for the fact that she has only played once competitively since June, the result of an on-going problem with her left thumb which curtailed her 2016 appearances to just 10 starts on the LPGA Tour.

However, with seven Majors in her locker, there was no disputing her supreme talent, and Park delivered a masterclass in precision golf in holding the opposition at arm’s length all day.

She added: “This is something I’ve really been dreaming of coming into the week. There were so many Korean people out here supporting me and it almost felt like we were in Korea.  Seeing how much support I had this week, I’m just happy that I finished well. This is definitely a big relief.”

Kiwi Ko, still only a teenager and surely set to compete in Tokyo in four years’ time, fought hard to close the gap on the Korean, but ultimately Park’s advantage was seldom under threat. “I didn’t have a great start, but I just tried to hang in there.  I can’t believe I’m holding a medal on the podium – it’s what I’ve been dreaming about since 2009.  To actually be there beside Inbee and Shanshan, is a dream come true. This has been just an amazing week,” she said.

Ko knew that she had to get up and down from greenside to avoid a play-off with Feng, and did so brilliantly. She laughed: “My celebration was as if I won the gold! It’s pretty cool.”

Malaysia’s Kelly Tan and Michelle Ko finished 51st and 58th respectively.

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