In the End, Woods Gets Even
Monday, June 16, 2008
SAN DIEGO, June 15 -- It was 12 feet. It was Tiger Woods. And Rocco Mediate had no doubt it was inevitable that the greatest player in the game would convert one last birdie putt Sunday to force a thoroughly improbable 18-hole Monday playoff in the 108th U.S. Open.
"Unbelievable," Mediate said seconds after watching on a TV monitor in the scoring area as Woods somehow cobbled together a birdie for the ages after a poor drive into a bunker and a dreadful second shot from the sand at the 527-yard finishing hole. He made up for both transgressions with that one final pressure-packed 12-foot putt that bounced all the way toward the hole before diving down to force the first Open playoff since 2001.
"I knew he'd make it," Mediate said. "That's what he does."
But who knew this final round would come down once and for all to Mediate, a 45-year-old everyman with a chronically bad back, and the game's supernova, a clearly wounded Woods, eight weeks removed from left knee surgery to repair cartilage damage? The No. 1 player in the world was still wincing, grimacing and limping his way around Torrey Pines South on Sunday, a venue where he's also won six Buick Invitationals on the PGA Tour, including the last four.
"I bet you didn't think I'd be here, did you?" Mediate said as he began his post-round news conference. "I have nothing left right now. I'm toast. It was the most amazing day of golf I've ever experienced . . . absolutely remarkable. I've never been there like that before. I just found out what it's all about. It doesn't matter how you get it in . . . you've just got to trust what you've worked on all your life. The thing that's most amazing is that the man I'm playing tomorrow has won 13 of these."
For a day at least, Woods also maintained his record of winning every one of his previous 13 major titles after sharing or holding the outright lead after 54 holes, as he did entering the final round one shot ahead of Lee Westwood, and two ahead of Mediate.
Woods won the 2000 PGA Championship in a three-hole aggregate score playoff against Bob May and the 2005 Masters in sudden death when he birdied the first playoff hole against Chris DiMarco. But he has never won a major with an 18-hole playoff, and after a double bogey-bogey start Sunday, he also knew he was extremely fortunate to force extra holes after a round of 2-over-par 73 and 72-hole total of 1-under 283.
The most heartbroken man on this gorgeous seaside venue had to be Westwood, a 35-year-old Englishman who has never been this close to the trophy in a major event. Both he and Woods came to the 18th hole a shot behind Mediate, already in the clubhouse after his a final-round 71 -- 283. Both men were at even par as they stepped to the last tee and knew they needed birdies to tie Mediate and eagles to win the Open.
They each put their off-line drives in fairway bunkers, and Westwood actually had a better second shot, laying up in the fairway. Woods, on the other hand, angrily swiped his club when his second from the sand went dead right into the second cut of rough. Westwood's third-shot wedge stopped about 20 feet above the hole, but he missed the birdie putt and finished with a round of 73 -- 284, a shot out of Monday's playoff that will start at noon EDT.
"It's sickening not to be in the playoff," Westwood said. "If somebody said you're going to have a chance from 20 feet for a playoff on Monday, I probably would have taken that at the start of the week. I think I've proved to myself and a few others that I think there is a major championship in me."
Woods's third shot to the green at the 18th was struck from about 100 yards away. He said he hit a 60-degree wedge "and it turned out to be perfect. The putt was probably about 2 1/2 balls outside right. The green wasn't very smooth. I kept telling myself make a pure stroke. If it bounces in or out, so be it, at least I can hold my head up high and hit a pure stroke. I hit it exactly where I wanted and it went in."
Earlier, Mediate also had a chance to birdie at No. 18 after laying up following a drive in the left rough. He said he had 247 yards to get the ball over the pond fronting the green and probably wouldn't have gone for it on his second shot from that distance, even from the fairway. Instead, he decided to leave himself a third-shot wedge to the green and wanted to hit it 106 yards for a decent birdie chance.
"I thought I hit it the right distance, but it's just so hard to make it go 106 yards," he said. "I hit it maybe seven or eight yards too far. I wasn't thinking about 'Oh my God, don't hit it in the lake' or something like that. I was just trying to get another putt at it."
He gave himself a tricky birdie putt from about 35 feet, but it never had a chance, and he settled for a two-putt par. After signing his card, he stayed around the scoring area behind the grandstand at the 18th green to fuss and fidget while Woods and Westwood came down the 72nd hole with a chance to tie him or beat him.
"It was great, " said Mediate, who has a chance to become the oldest Open champion Monday. "How much better can it get? I knew he would make the putt. That's what he does. I was trying to beat him with my putt. . . . Yeah, I would have loved to have had a birdie, but I didn't so I get to play him tomorrow. . . . I have nothing to lose. I can't believe I'm in the situation. I can't wait to see what I've got against The Man. I know what he has."
Woods also has a very sore knee, and a fifth straight day of walking is clearly not what he would prefer to be doing Monday, when he was scheduled to go to Mexico on a golf course design project.
"Looks like I'm busy," he said. "I think they'll understand."
Was his knee better or worse Sunday than it was on Saturday, he was asked?
"Not better," he said, adding that he would spend a good part of Sunday evening doing "a lot of icing, trying to get the swelling out and just try to make sure I have a range of motion. . . . Did it get better? No, but I took some things to relieve that, so I feel a bit better now."
Mediate was feeling fortunate to be in this rare major air for the first time in a solid professional career that has included five victories on the PGA Tour but only two top-10 finishes in majors. He was fourth at the 2001 Open when Retief Goosen beat Mark Brooks for the title in an 18-hole playoff at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.
Mediate said the Monday finish "is the way to go. Maybe some day we'll go to a four-hole playoff . . . but you play for your national title for four days, and if you go bogey the first hole [in sudden death], I think it's more important than that. [Woods] came up and said, 'We have a game tomorrow,' and I said, 'Yeah, I'll see you in the morning, big man.' "
As Mediate was finishing his session in the media center, he spotted Woods waiting outside the tent preparing to come in.
"You better watch yourself tomorrow, pal," he said, pointing his finger at Woods as both men, good friends for many years, smiled at the mock challenge. "See, he's a little nervous right now. It's going to be a blast, guys. I'm happy to be here, and we'll give you a show, I'm sure."