Great Britain's Justin Rose on Sunday edged Sweden's Henrik Stenson in a thrilling finale to card a final-round 67 and finish two shots clear of his Ryder Cup partner.
They went into the final hole level, but Rose birdied and Stenson bogeyed to card 68 -- while American Matt Kuchar snatched bronze with a sizzling eight-under-par 63.
Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, had hit the ground running by carding the first hole-in-one of the competition in Thursday's opening round and moved through the field in menacing fashion.
"That felt better than anything I've ever won," the 36-year-old told reporters.
"It was the best tournament I've ever done. It felt like a cross between a golf tournament and a carnival. It was unique, incredible.
"Coming up with that last pitch when I needed it was magical. Hopefully we've shown Brazil what golf is about. I'm glad it was close, not for my nerves, for golf."
While the the world's top four players, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy
, all stayed away, citing fears over the Zika virus, Rose was not perturbed.
The number of withdrawals led some to question whether golf should even be allowed back into the Games -- but the duel between Rose and Stenson may persuade the doubters that the sport still has a place at the Olympics.
Rose made the most of his opportunity, arriving early to take part in the opening ceremony, and has been outspoken in his belief that golf can make a positive impact at the Games.
His win means he is just the third man to win individual golf gold after Charles Sands of the US in 1900 and Canada's George Lyon in 1904.
"Olympic champion? That has a cool ring to it," Rose said.
"The medal ceremony was surreal. I've watched many on TV. I never thought I'd be involved in one.
"Honestly this is just a dream come true, I have been thinking about Rio for a long, long time. It is just crazy, just so good."
Rose will find out next year if he will get the chance to defend his title at Tokyo 2020, as the International Olympic Committee decides whether to keep golf in the program.
"This medal sits alongside my US Open title, but they shouldn't compete or be compared," he said.
"If they want to cut golf from the Olympics, I'd ask -- were you in Rio?"