Tuesday, June 17, 2008
SAN DIEGO, June 16 -- With an injured knee and his usual insatiable will to win, Tiger Woods needed 91 holes to claim the 108th U.S. Open championship and 14th major title of his storied career Monday at Torrey Pines South.
After one last tap-in putt for par on the first hole of sudden death against his friend and bulldog foe over 19 holes in a stirring playoff witnessed by more than 24,000 spectators, Woods finally was able to subdue Rocco Mediate when the 45-year-old veteran missed his own 20-foot putt for par.
"All week, I just happened to get off to such slow starts and just had to keep battling back and battle back and battle back," Woods said after his 65th PGA Tour victory, 17 short of the all-time record 82 held by Sam Snead. "Today was just another example of that."
When Mediate missed that last attempt to extend their mesmerizing match, the two men hugged on the seventh green -- the first hole for the sudden-death portion of the playoff -- and Woods told him "great fight."
Woods, who earned $1.35 million, also had fought all week against the pain in his left knee, surgically repaired eight weeks earlier, two days after he finished second at the Masters. The Open was his first tournament since the April 15 operation, and he said afterward it may be his last for a while, though he didn't specify how long he would "shut it down."
"I'm not really good at listening to doctor's orders too well," he said in response to a question about the possible long-term ramifications of his third knee operation since 1994. "Hey, I won this week."
Asked specifically if his doctors had told him he could further injure his knee by playing in the Open, Woods smiled and nodded his head yes, with no verbal comment.
And did he injure himself over the last five days and 91 holes of golf?
This also was a fabulous fight Woods very nearly lost on the 18th hole only 20 minutes earlier, despite opening up a three-shot lead through the first 10 holes, only to watch Mediate rally with three straight birdies starting at the 614-yard 13th hole. With an 18-foot birdie putt at the 478-yard 15th hole, Mediate actually had a one-shot lead with three to play, and maintained that advantage as both men stepped to the tee box at the 573-yard 18th hole, set up specifically by the United States Golf Association in hopes of creating high drama every day at the short par-5 finishing hole.
Clearly, that was mission accomplished. Woods had made a stunning 12-foot putt at the same hole on Sunday to get into the playoff and prevent Mediate from becoming the oldest champion in Open history. And once again, Woods dashed those hopes Monday with more heroics at the same hole.
Mediate, for the third time in the tournament, put his tee shot in the left fairway bunker, ending any chance that he would try to reach the green in two shots. He was forced to lay up in the fairway, and his third shot left him with a treacherous 30-foot birdie putt.