We started the final day of golf at the 2016 Rio Olympics day thinking the gold medal would be decided by a duel between Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. Ultimately, we were right. But it was Matt Kuchar who made a fantastic run at proving us wrong early in the day.
Kuchar shot a tournament-tying record 63 (Marcus Fraser also shot 63 in Round 1) on Sunday en route to winning the bronze medal, the only medal for the United States this time around in golf.
"I wish I could bottle this and do it all the time," Kuchar told Golf Channel. "I got off to an incredible start. Late in the first nine, a couple putts dropped in. When that putt [for eagle] on No. 10 went in, I thought, 'I got a chance here.' My heart started pounding. What a great experience."
Kuchar never could completely scale the mountain. The closest he got to the lead was one stroke back. But he put a nice jolt into the tournament ahead of Stenson and Rose coming home as Rose took the gold at the very end. Kuchar made an eagle and six birdies to shoot the 8-under 63.
He summed up the experience properly to Golf Channel afterwards.
"I was amazed by the nerves," Kuchar told Golf Channel. "I can assure I've never been so excited to finish top three in my life. The pride is busting out of my chest. I'd love to carry the momentum like this. There's certainly nothing like winning a PGA Tour event. Here, I realize it's third, but I've never felt this sort of pride busting out of my chest before."
Olympic golf is not a PGA Tour event. The fields are just not comparable especially to the very best tournaments on the PGA Tour (and even some on the European Tour). But this tournament is a fun one off every four years. Everybody in the event was surprised at how much they felt the nerves and how prideful they were in playing for their countries.
That's a great thing, but golf's best tournaments will always be defined by golf's best players. Not the other way around. This was a good, unique tournament in which the top three finishers were all really quality players.
Kuchar sort of saved the day for the U.S., too.
The United States' participation in this year's Olympics has been on a downward spiral since Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth withdrew from the event over a month ago. The U.S. did not take even close to its best four players and did not play well early in the tournament. So it was good to see Kuchar, who barely got into the event, notch a medal.
"I had secretly fingers crossed hoping players would pull out," Kuchar told Golf Channel earlier in the week. "I always was thrilled, always had a hope I could make it. I made a great run, kind of just before the deadline."
Now he's got a bronze medal to show for his effort and a lifetime of stories to bring back to the United States.