Xander Schauffele is the Olympic golf champion ©Getty Images

Xander Schauffele survived a late scare as he held his nerve to secure the men’s golf gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games following a thrilling final round that ended in a seven-way playoff for bronze here.

Schauffele carded a four-under-par 67 to finish the tournament on 18 under, one clear of surprise silver medallist Rory Sabattini of Slovakia.

South-African born Sabattini had set the clubhouse lead of 17 under following a superb 10-under 61, an Olympic record which included four birdies and an eagle.

Schauffele, the world number five, had looked comfortable before dropping a shot on the 14th, where he found himself in heaps of trouble after sending his tee shot to the right and into thick bushes.

That left him tied for the lead with Sabbatini, before the United States player birdied the 17th to move to the brink of the title.

The American then seemed to open the door for the chasing pack with a poor shot from the tee on the final hole, but recovered with a quite brilliant iron onto the green on his way to saving a par that sealed the gold medal.

Schauffele succeeds Britain's Justin Rose, who won the golf title at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, as the Olympic champion.

Victory handed Schauffele, whose mother grew up in Japan, his first win in two-and-a-half years and the biggest achievement of his career to date, following several near misses at major championships.

Xander Schauffele claimed the men's gold medal after a thrilling final day ©Getty Images
Xander Schauffele claimed the men's gold medal after a thrilling final day ©Getty Images

The 27-year-old is the third Olympic golf gold medallist from the United States after Charles Sands and Margaret Abott won the inaugural men's and women's crowns, respectively, at the 1900 Games in Paris.

"I was able to learn from those moments when I’ve lost coming down the stretch, when I’ve hit a bad shot or a bad wedge or a bad putt and sort of lost my cool," Schauffele said.

"I’ve wanted to win this more than anything else for quite some time."

Japan’s Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, whose putter let him down at several key moments throughout the final round, missed the chance to avoid a playoff for the bronze medal by ending with a par to join six others on 15 under.

World number 208 Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei sealed bronze by making par on the fourth playoff hole to edge out Collin Morikawa of the US, whose chances of a podium finish were all-but over when he found the bunker.

Matsuyama and Britain's Paul Casey were the first to be eliminated, before Ireland's four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, Chile's Mito Pereira and Sebastian Munoz bowed out after the third playoff hole.

Both silver medallist Sabbatini and Pan are ranked outside of the world's top 200, a demonstration of the unpredictable nature of the sport.

The men's golf event at Tokyo 2020 featured a stronger field than Rio 2016, where several of the top players withdrew because of concerns over the Zika virus.

The line-up for these Games was dealt a blow in the lead-up to the competition when world number one Jon Rahm of Spain, the US Open champion, and American world number six Bryson DeChambeau were forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19.

The battle for bronze brought to an end a fascinating final day of just the fourth Olympic men's golf tournament to ever be contested.

The women's competition starts here on Wednesday (August 4) and concludes Saturday (August 7).