Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: On a momentous day when golf was reunited with the Olympic movement after a 112-year absence, Australian Marcus Fraser leads the men’s competition after shooting the lowest score of a thrilling opening day, which saw Justin Rose capture the first hole-in-one in Olympic history.
As a new era dawned for the sport amid the colossal carnival which represents sport’s greatest show on earth – putting a huge smile on the face of golf – it was 38-year-old Fraser from Melbourne who took command by firing an eight-under-par 63 to grab the first round lead.
The bounce in Fraser’s step was unmistakable as he laughed: “We were just saying: ‘I’ve got the Olympic record’. That’s pretty cool, and hopefully that lasts all week.”
Fraser claimed nine birdies over the purpose-built Olympic course at Reserva de Marapendi to open up a three-stroke lead over Open champion Henrik Stenson and Canadian Graham DeLaet as the 60 newest and proudest Olympic athletes set the tone for a potentially epic few days’ play in Rio.
Fittingly, it was a 44-year-old Brazilian, Adilson da Silva, who was handed the honour of striking the first Olympic golf shot in the modern era at 7.30am, a time when most of the swimmers, gymnasts, boxers and beach volleyball heroes were tucked up in the Olympic Village.
It was also appropriate that the first three-ball of the Olympic competition contained DeLaet, whose countryman, George Lyon, was the last person to capture a precious gold medal in the dying embers of golf’s last flirtation with the Olympics 112 years previously.
DeLaet was aware of the Canadian connection as he flexed his competitive muscles with an outstanding round of 66, five-under-par and observed: “We said as we were walking off the first tee that this is pretty cool – the first time in over a hundred years – and we’re the lead group. It was nice.”
As the day unfolded, and more new Olympians were established with every passing tee time, it was clear that golf was savouring its return to Olympic prominence. The quality of the play reflected that.
Rose enjoyed the feeling of recording the first hole in one of the new Olympic era, as his seven iron from 189 yards disappeared into the hole at the fourth.
“Definitely one of those icing on the cake moments, when you’re the first to do anything, no one can ever take that away from you, whatever it is,” said Rose, who is tied for fourth at four under par. “That was definitely a cool moment.”
DeLaet admitted he was inspired by meeting the Canadian women who won the first bronze in Rugby Sevens. He said: “We went to the Canada House on Tuesday night and the Rugby Sevens girls were with us on the bus going over there, and they had their Bronze Medals when they got there.
“You know, we got to hold it. We took a picture with the girls and that’s when it really kind of became real to me how amazing it would be to get that chunk of medal. Obviously gold would be incredible, but I think bringing home anything would be really, really special. I know that countries always count medals, so to be able to add to what Canada can rack up would be pretty awesome.”
Stenson, who won his first major at Royal Troon last month, racked up six birdies and one bogey in his 66 to join DeLaet in second spot, with Justin Rose of Great Britain among a group of five players on 67, four under par.
He admitted that confidence is still high after his Open win and said: “Hopefully confidence doesn’t wear off that easily, but more than anything, I’m just focusing on my game and what I need to do, and I feel like I’ve got pretty good control over most areas of my game, what I need to focus on. It was all about trying to get some energy back. Days like these are tiring, playing in these conditions.”
Quotes of the day:
Marcus Fraser 63 (-8): “I think this is probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played, given the circumstances, I was quite edgy and a bit jumpy on the first tee, because it’s such a big occasion to be here at the Olympics. To manage that and go on to play the way I did is really pleasing and a big confidence boost.
“Tapping in on the18th, when the three-footer went in, I looked down there, and grabbed my ball out of the hole. It’s something I’ll never forget, because it’s pretty special to be able to shoot that score in the first round that golf is back in the Olympics.”
Graham DeLaet 66 (-5): “I was a little bit nervous actually. You know, we do this for a living week‑in, week‑out, but there was something different about that first tee shot today. It was a different announcement for us, and it was just a really cool feeling.
“I was playing with a Brazilian (Adilson da Silva) and that was neat. We had a lot of people out there, especially for 7.30 in the morning – more than I anticipated. It was a lot of fun. We said as we were walking off the first tee; ‘this is pretty cool, first time in over a hundred years, and we’re kind of the lead group’. It was nice.
Gregory Bourdy 67 (-4): “It’s an amazing experience to be here, playing an Olympic Games, It was really one of my biggest goals for the last few years to be here and to perform, to play well. I’m very happy to start my Olympics with a score of four under. I think it’s already a special atmosphere, because usually, as I said, we play individually and we are not listening too much to French cheering ‘Allez les Bleus’!”
Nicolas Colsaerts 68 (-3): It would mean a lot on a personal point of view and also a national point of view. It would be a dream come true. It’s not the first time golf is here, but it will pretty much feel like it, in the modern era, anyway. I feel honored to be here. I really feel proud to be on that list of players that have supported the event.”
Matt Kuchar 69 (-2): “The nerves don’t get me in very many places. Here it was a little different. Teeing off in particular. I think I was the first American to tee off today and to hear my name announced as an Olympian (meant) there were a few more butterflies than I anticipated on the first tee.”
Matteo Manassero 69 (-2): “When I hit the first tee shot, I thought: ‘okay, I’m officially an Olympic athlete’ and that was a good feeling. We (have been) trying our best to get golf to look as great as it is in the biggest sports stage there is. It’s a good responsibility, and also we’re having a lot of fun and it’s great to be here.”
Padraig Harrington 70 (-1): “I would say I was more nervous on the first tee ‑ as much as I would have been when I played my first major. It was very exciting. I said it to the guys walking off, now we are Olympians and nobody can take that away from us. When you think about it, most weeks, you have 156 guys playing, 155 losers. This week, you have 60 guys playing, and we are all winners.”
Adilson da Silva 72 (+1): “Before I teed off, my head was everywhere….just don’t goof this! But just towards the end, I managed to calm myself down and focus to what I wanted to do. And I have been hitting my driver well, so I think I committed to the shot and I hit a nice one there.”