Charley Hull finished two shots off the bronze medal in the women’s Olympic golf competition won by Inbee Park. The South Korean finished on 16 under par, five shots clear of New Zealand’s Lydia Ko. A late flurry of birdies from the Kiwi, including one on the 18th green, relegated China’s Shanshan Feng to third.
After appearing to blow her chances with a two-over-par third round of 73, the GB player looked to have played herself back into contention for a podium place but came up short after undercooking a putt on the 18th. It did not matter, as Ko’s back-nine surge put paid to the hotly anticipated play-off for bronze Hull had been hoping to gatecrash.
“I was quite happy with the way I finished,” Hull said. “I played pretty decent. I hit a great shot into the last and I could have raced that putt a bit more but I was a bit of a pussy on it. On the back nine I gave myself plenty of opportunities and I just didn’t hole it. My first Olympics was a fantastic experience and I got a good buzz off it. It’s been good.”
The round of the day was shot by Maria Verchenova, whose uniquely stylish course attire, topped off with a wide-brimmed hat, invariably conveys the impression she has just popped out for a quick 18 en route to Royal Ascot. The Russian shot a breathtaking 62, nine under, including a hole in one on the 4th where her iron off the tee arrowed towards the dance floor and bounced a couple of times before rolling into the cup.
It was the third ace of this tournament and the fifth in total on the Rio course in men’s and women’s competition during the Olympics. Verchenova’s course record was not enough to put her in the shakeup and she finished well down the field.
Even further behind her was Tiffany Chan, a 22-year-old from Hong Kong, who broke 70 for the first time in four rounds to finish four over par. The Chinese amateur may or may not have drawn inspiration from a sizeable contingent of supporters who followed her around the course carrying large, decidedly sinister cardboard cutouts of her face.
Speaking at the conclusion of the women’s tournament, the South Africa team captain, Gary Player, judged the first Olympic golf tournaments an unequivocal success. “This is not a golfing country but if you look at the crowds who have come out and the network ratings around the world, in some of the countries the ratings have been higher than the British Open, the oldest and most famous tournament in the world,” he said.
“It’s been a special week for me to work in the same gym as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Tim Henman. And then eat with 10,800 of the best athletes in the world and to see the standard of play. The women have been unbelievable and the men have been unbelievable. I can tell you this, when we and they go to Japan, there’ll be 30,000 people a day watching on the course.”
As well as praising a competition that was ignored by many from the male paid ranks for health reasons that could be interpreted by the cynical as spurious, Hull was impressed with the bespoke Olympic course built on the Marapendi Natural Reserve in Rio’s Barra da Tijuca.
“It is tricky,” she said. “I think it’s a fantastic design and I think whoever designed it should be proud of themselves.”
Landscaped as part of an environmental recovery project, the course is as beautiful to walk as it is tough to play and will be open to the public after the Olympics. Quite who will use it remains to be seen, with the number of golf enthusiasts in the state of Rio de Janeiro believed to number fewer than 2,000.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010