Tiger Woods, in agony and in danger it seemed of having to pull out of the US Open last Friday, completed a simply staggering victory today.
On the very day he reached 500 weeks as world number one, Woods took his total of majors to 14 – just four short of Jack Nicklaus’s record – after a marathon duel with fellow American Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.
After staying alive with a 15-foot putt on Sunday Woods again birdied the last to stop 45-year-old qualifier Mediate becoming the championship’s oldest winner.
They were both round in level par 71s as a result, Mediate having come from three down after 10 to lead by one on the final tee.
Woods then won his own version of the “Battle of Wounded Knee” when his opponent, ranked 158th in the world, bogeyed the first extra hole of sudden death. Their 91st of the week.
In his first event since surgery on his left knee straight after the Masters in April, Woods made it a remarkable five straight victories at the San Diego venue and took his on-course career earnings through the $100m mark.
If not the greatest victory of all the 87 he has now had as a professional, it was certainly the most unlikely when he started with a double bogey and appeared miles short of full fitness.
His play-off record now, though, is a stunning 16-3 – and, of course, he has maintained his record of winning every single major he has led after 54 holes. All 14 of them, that is.
After Woods, battling as he had all week with the pain in his left knee, had bogeyed the 11th and 12th Mediate birdied the next three and went one ahead.
The last of those was with a 25-foot downhill putt after the 13-major winner had conjured up a magical recovery from a bunker on the wrong hole.
Woods, having missed from 12 feet there, almost made a 50-footer on the next and could not convert a 22-foot chance at the 17th.
Mediate, though, opened the door by driving into a bunker on the last. He had to lay up short of the water, whereas twice champion Woods hit a three-iron onto the green and two-putted.
Sudden death began on the seventh hole and there it ended as well when Mediate was in a bunker, missed the green and failed to get up and down.
Woods said at the trophy presentation: "It was unbelievable, the whole week.
“The golf course was set up so fair but so difficult, everybody who has come out this week has been fantastic, the fans have made the tournament.
“Today was unreal, it kept ebbing and flowing, Rocc looked like he was in control, then I did, it was back and forth, back and forth and 18 holes wasn’t enough.
“Three shots on this golf course isn’t much. I was slapping it around and I just wanted to get the ball on the green, Rocc made three birdies in a row and that run was impressive.”
Asked about the problems he had had throughout the tournament with his knee, Woods added: “I’m glad I’m done, I really don’t feel like playing any more.
“The atmosphere kept me going, it could have been very easy to quit, but I couldn’t quit in front of these people, it wasn’t going to happen.”
Asked when he would play again, he said: “Not for a while, I’m going to shut it down for a little bit and see what happens.”
Mediate admitted his best had not quite been good enough.
He said: “Tiger is so hard to beat, he’s unreal. I would have loved to have won, it was a great day.
“The crowd was unbelievable, the putt I made at 18 just to stay in it – I handled it, I was nervous as a cat but I handled it.
“I can’t really complain, I did the best I could. It just showed me that I can still compete. I got what I wanted, a chance to beat the best player in the world and I came up just short.”