Tiger has done it again. But this time, it didn't come easy. In one of the greatest battles of all-time, Tiger Woods was able to squeeze out a victory against fan favorite, Rocco Mediate on Monday. A victory that took more than an 18-hole playoff match. One that took a sudden death playoff hole as well.
Many argue that the U.S. Open is foolish to have an 18-hole playoff on Monday instead of the standard sudden death playoff holes on Sunday, but the Open sure proved the critics wrong today. What a show it was. A test of not only physical, but also mental toughness. 91 holes of golf in just 5 days. A task that can surely wear down the body and mind of any individual. Especially the likes of a 45-year-old and a man who walked 18 holes on Thursday for the first time since his third knee surgery. Yet these were the two men that outlasted the field for four days and emerged as co-leaders when the fourth round of golf was complete.
At 9:00 am Pacific time this morning, the two teed off to embark on a golf match for the ages. Tiger emerged as the leader after one, but the third hole would set the stage for the up and down match it would be. After a near hole-in-one on the third, Rocco took the lead. Not short after Tiger birdied the 7th & 8th to take it right back. After 10 holes, Tiger was holding onto a comfortable 3 shot lead, and it seemed everyone watching knew he was about to pull away. Everyone, but Rocco. Mediate settled down on the 11th & 12th, then put together a string of 3 consecutive birdies to take the lead back from Woods. He still held that lead of a stroke as he walked up to the 18th tee box. Just one hole away from accomplishing the improbable. All he had to do was split the hole with the world's best golfer.
Imagine the pressure Rocco must have felt as he teed up on the 18th. What seemed to be a record crowd was on hand, and all eyes were on his next shot. To build the pressure even more, standing less than 10 feet away from him, was his opponent Tiger Woods. Rocco had to know Woods wouldn't be going down without a fight. It is no wonder Mediate found himself in the bunker after his first shot, and in the rough near the grand stand after his second.
That set the stage for Tiger Woods. With a 13-0 record when leading after 54 holes on the line, and the pressure at an all-time high for Woods, he didn't skip a beat. The commercial shown periodically throughout the broadcast couldn't have been more fitting. With each shot on the 18th, I kept thinking about the words Earl Woods, Tiger's late father, said in that Nike commercial. Telling Tiger he would never meet a man with more mental toughness than him. That statement couldn't have seemed more and more true with each of Tiger's shots on the final hole. Woods was able to birdie and put the pressure on Mediate to win the tournament with a long birdie putt of his own. Mediate failed and onto sudden death they went.
With the pressure mounting, Mediate struggled on the first playoff hole and Woods excelled, taking the tournament. The 14th victory in a major of his career. He now stands just 4 wins in a major shy of Jack Nicklaus, well ahead of his pace. Five victories away from ultimately solidifying himself as the greatest golfer to ever play. He is also 14-0 when leading going into the fourth round of a major and 11-1 in his playoff career (3-0 in Majors).
As a fan, I have to feel bad for Rocco Mediate. He truly seems to be a great guy and seems to have a love for the game that all players should have. Rocco always plays with a smile on his face and deserves great success in golf. His attitude towards the game is phenomenal. He felt blessed to be given the opportunity to take on Tiger. He said it gave him a chance to see what he really had. Well, Rocco learned he had a lot in him. He tied Woods through 90 holes of golf, including a pressure-packed one-on-one playoff of 18 holes, until Woods finally got the best of him on the 91st. What a story? Rocco should be proud of the way he played, and I have a feeling this will forever be the highlight of his career. Hearing Tiger say Rocco put the pressure on him time and time again was a great compliment to Mediate's performance. Not many can say they put Tiger Woods on the ropes in a one-on-one golf match.
The loss is bittersweet for Rocco, but both he Woods learned a lot about themselves from that epic battle. Woods said after that it was the greatest win of his golf career. A win he shared for the first time with his newly-born daughter, and one that I am sure was won for his father. The worn out Woods said there were times when he thought he might have to throw in the towel. Part of him said it was time to quit and another part, likely his father from above, said to face the adversity and put on a performance for the ages. And oh how he and Rocco did. After the match was finally over Woods and Mediate shared a hug and Tiger said to Rocco, "Good fight". It certainly was nothing less.
Image taken from Yahoo! Sports
Thanks to Phil Lund for his creative title.