Olympics-Golf-Schauffele within reach of gold medal at Tokyo

KAWAGOE, Japan (Reuters) – Xander Schauffele had one hand on the gold medal as the final groups made the turn at the Olympic golf on Sunday after the American made a flawless start on a steamy day at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Overnight leader by a stroke, Schauffele was 18-under for the tournament, two shots ahead of Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia as he headed to the 10th, having drained birdies on the first, second, fifth and eight holes.

South Africa-born Sabbatini was outright second after making a huge charge to be nine-under in his final round through 14 holes.

Briton Paul Casey was in the bronze medal position on 15-under, one stroke ahead of a group tied for fourth including home favourite Hideki Matsuyama and Irishman Rory McIlroy.

The final groups teed off under a broiling sun, with oppressive humidity and the temperature 32 degrees Celsius (90F) and rising.

After taking a one-stroke lead at the halfway mark on Friday, Schauffele spoke of his quest to play with patience after a frustrating run of near-misses on the U.S. Tour in recent years.

He threw that playbook out the window in a blazing start, birdie-ing the first two holes and rolling in a 20-foot putt on the second to jump out to a three-stroke lead.

Under pressure from Sabbatini, he rolled in a five-foot clutch putt for par on the ninth to preserve his two-stroke lead after leaving his approach well short.

(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Himani Sarkar)