Clutch putt clinches Lydia Ko's silver

New Zealand's Lydia Ko birdied three of the final five holes Saturday to clinch the silver medal. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

New Zealand's Lydia Ko couldn't buy a putt Saturday at the women's Olympic golf tournament in Rio de Janeiro. But when it mattered most, the world's top-ranked player came through.

Faced with a 7-foot putt on the 18th hole -- and the silver medal hanging in the balance -- Ko's shot slid in the side door for a birdie on the final hole of golf's return to the Olympics in more than a century.

"My celebration was like as if I won the gold," said Ko, who shot a final-round 2-under-par 69. "I wasn't putting very great today, so just to see something go in, I think was really cool because now there's no playoff."

Had Ko missed her putt, there would have been a playoff with China's Shanshan Feng, who ended up with the bronze medal.

Starting the final round 2 shots back of 54-hole leader and eventual gold-medal winner Inbee Park, Ko's putting was just a touch off Saturday.

In the final round, Ko managed just 69 feet of putts made over 18 holes, compared to nearly double that for Park (123 feet.) On the front nine, Ko sank just one putt more than 16 inches -- a 16-footer for birdie at the seventh hole -- for her only par breaker through the first 13 holes.

On 14 of 18 holes, Ko's final stroke came from less than 3½ feet from the cup. And 38 of Ko's 69 feet of putts came on the final five holes. That's where she made three birdies that pulled her from off the podium into the silver-medal position when all was said and done.

"Coming down the stretch I tried to play a little more aggressively and that worked in my favor coming down on 16," said Ko, who drove the green on the short par-4 and two-putted for birdie.

"At one stage I was fifth, and I said, OK, I've got a lot of work to do," Ko said. "But it was a really good finish, and no matter what the result is, when you're finishing off with a birdie where there's the most crowds, it's a great feeling."

Early on in the final round, Ko showed a composure well beyond her 19 years. When her second shot on the par-4 second hole found a greenside sandy area, she was forced to take an unplayable lie penalty stroke.

Ko nearly holed her next shot, a putt from the fringe that stopped an inch short of the hole.

So what does it mean to Ko, a two-time major champion, to become the youngest female medalist in New Zealand's Olympic history?

"I said if I get a medal, I'm never going to take it off," she said. "I think I might have to shower with it. And I know that it doesn't rust; or at least we're going to try it.

"But you know, this is an honor. ... This medal is obviously something that I'm very proud of. But it's I think a medal that represents every golfer here, and, you know, everyone back at home in New Zealand."