“One-legged” Tiger refuses to lose
We’ve been watching the PGA Tour tournaments on the tube almost since Day One and have to admit that last weekend’s 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego offered the most excitement and drama of any we can ever remember.
Ever since the Masters ended back in early April and Tiger Woods had his left knee operated on to clean out some old cartilage, the Number One question of the sports media was whether Tiger will be fully recovered and able to compete in this major event of the pro golfing world.
After spending many hours glued to NBC Saturday, Sunday and even Monday the answer to that intriguing question is “No” and “Yes.” No, Tiger is not fully recovered from the slow-healing surgery and Yes, Tiger is able to compete, even on only one good leg.
One could almost feel the pain in his own knee whenever Tiger took one of his famous vicious swings at that Nike golf ball and then watched him grimace in pain after he hit the ball.
After Thursday’s opening round Woods found himself in a tie for 19th place after testing his knee and tentatively shooting a one-over par 72. He got off to a slow start and had a tough time getting his score down near par.
Tiger’s confidence continued to grow on Friday after shooting 38 on the back nine. Woods began looking like himself and fashioned a personal record-tying 30 on the front and threw his hat in contention for his 14th major victory by moving to within one stroke of second-round leader Stuart Appleby’s 139.
But the rigors of walking six to seven miles each day and twisting on tee shots began to visibly show that his knee was not completely healed. But Tiger’s burning desire to play like the world’s No. 1 golfer took over as he birdied both Par 5’s on the back nine and chipped in a birdie on No. 17 for good measure.
His downhill slow-turning, twisting eagle putt on the 54th hole finally gave Tiger the lead at three-under par 210, although when interviewed after the round by NBC Saturday he admitted that his knee was hurting much more than he thought it would.
Tiger’s one-stroke lead was short-lived as both he and his playing partner Lee Westwood double-bogeyed the first hole Sunday and Rocco Mediate, who was trying to become the oldest U.S. Open champion at age 45, took over the lead.
The personable Mediate, who reminds one of the chatterbox cartoon magpie Heckle or Jeckle, played steady golf, getting par on most of the holes on the front nine. After getting bogey on the Par 4 No. 2 hole, Tiger settled down and made several pars in a row that were matched by Westwood.
Mediate got in some trouble on the Par 4 No. 12 hole and double-bogeyed, with Westwood slipping into the lead. Tiger remained one stroke off the lead as he toned down his tee shots by using his 3 wood or even an iron. But his left knee continued to throb even after he took something over-the-counter to ease the pain.
Tiger tied Westwood but they both hooked a tee shot on the Par 5 No. 13 and had to take penalty drops, which resulted in bogeys as Mediate regained the lead by a single stroke over both Woods and Westwood.
Mediate put his game on cruise control and made pars the rest of the way, forcing either Tiger or Westwood to make a birdie to catch him. Mediate finished the final round with an even-par 71, with Tiger and Westwood still a stroke behind and both finding the bunker with their tee shots.
Both players hit short of the pond, about 100 yards from the green and both put their third shot on the green, 12 and 15 yards from the pin, respectively. Westwood missed his birdie putt as Mediate heaved a sigh of relief from his clubhouse vantage point.
But in true Tiger fashion, Woods rolled in his 12-foot birdie putt to force an 18-hole playoff with Mediate Monday morning and kept his slate clean as to never losing a major tournament when leading after 54 holes.
Monday’s playoff format called for an entire 18-hole round, the U.S. Open being the only major to play that many holes. The Masters uses a sudden-death playoff while both the British Open and PGA have a four-hole playoff format.
The playoff was loaded with irony with Tiger being seven over par for all four rounds on No. 1. However, Tiger made par and Mediate got the bogey to fall one down. But on the Par 3 third hole, Mediate almost got a hole-in one for an easy birdie while Tiger hit into the bunker and took a bogey, falling one stroke behind Mediate.
Rocco bogeyed No. 5 and Tiger got a par to even the match.
Woods birdied the next two holes, but bogeyed No, 8 to stay ahead by one shot. Mediate bogeyed both 9 and 10, giving Tiger a three-stroke lead with only eight holes to play. It appeared the match was over, but Tiger bogeyed No. 10 and 11.
Still down by a stroke Mediate, whose putting stroke had been mediocre at best, rallied for three straight birdies while Tiger also birdied No. 13, but got pars on 14 and 15 putting Rocco ahead by one, just like on Sunday. Both golfers got pars on the next two holes, setting up the same scenario as on Sunday.
Tiger nailed his drive on the Par 5 No. 18 hole while Mediate hit into the bunker and had to lay up. Woods put his second shot on the front of the green and Mediate got on in three. Both golfers two putted, to once again knot the match after 90 holes. The predetermined sudden death holes were No. 7, 8 and 18, all three of which Tiger birdied earlier in the playoff match.
Hole No. 7 was a Par 4 with a dogleg to the right that did not favor Mediate’s draw. Tiger boomed a beauty down the middle while Mediate hooked his tee shot into the left bunker and hit his second shot short of the green. Tiger was safely on the green in two.
Woods missed his birdie putt by inches and tapped in the par. Mediate needed to make a 15-foot par putt to send the match to the next hole but missed to the right, giving Tiger Woods his 14th major title and extending his playoff record to 11-1 and 3-0 in a major tournament.
Tiger remained the No. l golfer in the world, but Mediate’s world ranking catapulted from 158 to No. 47, despite not winning in the last 138 PGA events spanning over a period of six years.
“This was the greatest tournament I’ve ever had,” a smiling but very tired Tiger Woods said after the grueling five days of golf. “It was unbelievable all week because 90 holes weren’t enough to decide a winner. I thought Rocco played very tough, especially when he was down three shots on the back nine.”
Tiger is now only four majors shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record total of 18. Master Jack won his 14th major when he was 35 years old, compared to Tiger winning his at age 32. When asked about future tournaments Tiger said with a sigh, “I plan to shut it down for a while and let my knee heal properly.”
Rocco Mediate wished Tiger had shut it down a week earlier.