TIGER WOODS completed his third career Grand Slam, a feat only previously achieved by Jack Nicklaus, and captured his 14th major when he held off a gallant challenge from the often luckless 45- year-old qualifier Rocco Mediate in yesterday’s US Open play-off at Torrey Pines.
Rarely, if ever, has there been a championship to match the excitement and colour that surrounded the climax to the 108th championship.
The 1-6 favourite Woods needed to birdie the long 18th for the second successive day to stay in the championship, this time to force Mediate into ‘sudden death’. And it ended at the first extra hole, the 7th, when Mediate bunkered his drive and was unable to match Woods’s perfectly played par four.
Woods has now moved to within four of Nicklaus’s record total of 18 major championships, and if the problems he has been enduring with his left knee clear up, he can expect to draw ever closer in the British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale next month and at the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in August.
Afterwards, Woods was embraced by his wife Elin and proudly carried his 15-month-old baby Sam on to the 18th green for the presentation ceremony.
He said: “As for my knee, I’m done. I’m glad I’m done. But I could never have quit in front of these people. It was never going to happen but I wont’ be playing for a while. I’ll shut it down for a few weeks. And let’s not forget Roc. Everyone knows he is a great guy. He has been unbelievably nice to me and a great friend since I first came on Tour. It was an incredibly gutsy performance and he put a lot of pressure on me today and throughout the week. Don’t forget Roc was in bad shape last year with his back and for him to be out here at 45 and playing this well is unbelievable.”
Mediate did himself proud with the way he hung in there against such a powerful opponent.
“The thing I’m proudest of is the way I hung in there,”, said Rocco. “When I fell three behind after ten, I thought it was going to be over quickly but I kept hanging around, got in front, was caught, bang, 19 holes. I was as nervous as a cat on the 18th but I showed I can compete and keep competing. I never quit, I got what I wanted and that was to come up against the best player in the world.
Understandably relieved at holing the birdie putt on 18 on Sunday evening that got him into the play-off, Woods waved a hand in triumph at the first play-off when he hit the fairway for the first time in five attempts. He had three times previously double bogeyed the 448 yard opener but this time he made par against a bogey by Mediate, who found sand off the tee.
However, there was a two shot swing in the outsider’s favour at the picturesque short 3rd, where Woods got a “fried egg” lie in a bunker short of the green whereas Mediate punched a delightful six iron that ran over the edge of the hole and pulled up a couple of feet beyond the stick.
The 5th could have proved disastrous for Mediate, whose left foot slipped as he played from a fairway bunker and the ball twice bounced high in the air off the cart paths. Amazingly, he had a clear pitch back to the green and escaped with a bogey five. Woods levelled there and duly birdied each of the next two to move a couple ahead.
However, he was still not at his best and had to struggle for a bogey at the short 8th.
Mediate narrowed the gap to one but threw away a golden chance at the long 9th by three putting for a six after Woods fluffed a bunker recovery and took four to get on.
So Woods turned for home with a two stroke advantage, 36 to 38, its own demonstration of how both men weren’t quite finding their A game. The gap opened to three at the 10th where, for seemingly the umpteenth time, Woods sank a big par putt from off the green having again been in rough off the tee and the obviously shaken Rocco again took three from close range.
But Mediate had it back to level pegging at the 14th, which was playing a mere 269 yards. Mediate was the one to get up and down from just short and the 20,000 or so spectators were beside themselves with excitement.
By and large, it was on and around the greens where Woods held the edge, a point amply demonstrated at the 15th where he hit two glorious shots on to eighteen feet. Woods threatened to steal his thunder by drilling a phenomenal shot from a bunker over by the 9th green to an even shorter distance of the flag.
That might well have shattered Mediate but instead he judged his birdie putt beautifully and rolled it into the centre of the cup. Woods missed and unbelievably his three shot lead after ten had turned into arrears of one with three to play! The next two were “halved” and not entirely surprisingly, Tiger got even at the last with an impeccable two putt birdie after Mediate had found sand off the tee for the second successive day. The 16th and 17th were “halved” before Woods drew level on the last and got home at the 19th.
The first Torrey Pines Open had finally ended. For sure, it won’t be the last after this epic!
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