Better than all the rest

Times Staff Writer

LA JOLLA -- In the end, he was Rocco, not “Rocky.”

And Tiger Woods was Tiger Woods.

And there were no retakes.

Rocco Mediate had his chance to win the 108th U.S. Open, on the 18th green, in a playoff, on the 90th hole, at Torrey Pines.

But when Mediate didn’t win it -- missing a 16-foot birdie putt -- Woods did.

The playoff, even at par 71 after 18 holes, was forced into sudden death at the par-four seventh hole.


Woods made par, Mediate made bogey, and it was time to exhale.

“I threw everything I had,” Mediate said, “everything I had.”

It took 91 holes for Woods to claim his third U.S. Open title and his 14th major championship, leaving him exhausted, relieved, somewhat surprised and only four professional major victories from matching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.

“It’s hard to believe I’m in this situation,” Woods, only 32, said.

Unlike the fist pump Woods let loose on Sunday at No. 18 after his 12-foot slider for birdie sent the championship to Monday’s playoff, his final rendering was subdued.

Mediate missed his par putt on No. 7, after Woods had made his, then Woods removed his hat, hugged his caddie, hugged Mediate, and savored more than celebrated the win.

Woods has had plenty of major golf moments, but this week might take the rake.

“I think this is probably the best ever,” Woods said. “All things considered, I don’t know how I ended up in this position, to be honest with you.”

It wasn’t as dominating as Woods’ 15-shot U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach in 2000, but there might be 108 reasons why the 108th Open will remain special.

Woods won despite not playing even a practice round of golf since April 15 surgery on his left knee, a knee that could become Woods’ biggest obstacle in chasing down Nicklaus.

Woods won without complete control of his game.

Yet, when he needed birdie at the par-five 18th on Sunday and Monday to keep playing, he made birdie.

“He’s not normal,” Mediate said. “He’s way above everything.”

Woods showed a resilient side too, rebounding after blowing a three-shot, back-nine lead.

He also hit more memorable shots in a six-hole stretch Saturday -- two eagles and a chip-in birdie -- than some players hit in a career.

Woods winced and wobbled, grimaced and grappled. He was the drama king.

Mediate made it thrilling to watch by making Woods sweat the details.

“I didn’t want it to be a walk in the park,” Mediate said. “It could have been. I’m a little bit tired today, I’m a little old. He’s got me by 14 years. He’s got me by a thousand yards off the tee. And I kept hanging in there, hanging in there.”

Mediate shined as America’s “everyman,” a 45-year-old with a bad back.

U.S. Open playoffs can sometimes be humdrum, but not this one.

Many in the gallery, estimated by the USGA to be about 24,000, chased the players from hole to hole.

It looked to be Woods in a landslide at No. 10, when he extended his lead to three.

Mediate, though, kept nipping away.

The lead was cut to two at the par-three 11th after Woods bogeyed and Mediate made par.

It shrank to one at No. 12, the 505-yard par four, when two Woods clunker shots and a thrown club led to another bogey.

Mediate pulled even at No. 14, a par four playing to only 269 yards Monday, when he tapped in for birdie while Woods made par.

Mediate was in it to win it at the par-four 15th, but only after Woods upstaged Mediate’s second shot to 20 feet with a 170-yard blast, out of a fairway bunker, to 15 feet.

Mediate shook his head -- “Unreal,” he said later -- but answered by draining his birdie putt while Woods made only par.

Mediate had a one-shot lead three holes from becoming the oldest U.S. Open winner.

Three holes from pulling the biggest Open upset since Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in 1955.

Three holes from comparisons to 1913, when 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet put American golf on the map with his upset win over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Mediate held steady until the 18th, when his drive into the left bunker forced a layup on the par-five finishing hole.

Woods -- go figure -- needed only two clean swipes to get within 30 feet of eagle.

Mediate’s third shot, to 15 feet, produced decibel waves that shook the 18th grandstand.

When Woods’ missed his eagle putt, Mediate stood 15 feet from the rest of a different life.

But he missed.

So the players returned to the seventh hole, where Mediate had nothing left.

His tee shot plopped into the left fairway bunker, and he yanked his second next to the grandstands.

He got a free drop but couldn’t get a wedge shot closer than 18 feet.

Woods, on the green in two, tapped in for par.

Mediate needed a minor miracle to hole his quick-breaking putt -- but didn’t get it.

His 14th major in the bag, Woods jumped into a golf cart and was escorted down the seventh fairway as fans stormed the ropes to get a closer look.

Where does Woods go from here?

“You just keep going,” he said. “ . . . there is no finish line. You keep pushing and pushing.”



Key numbers and dates

*--* MOST MAJOR TITLES MOST PGA TOUR WINS Jack Nicklaus 18 Sam Snead 82 Tiger Woods 14 Jack Nicklaus 73 Walter Hagen 11 Tiger Woods 65 Ben Hogan 9 Ben Hogan 64 Gary Player 9 Arnold Palmer 62 *--*


* British Open -- July 17-20 at Royal Birkdale, England

* PGA Championship -- Aug. 7-10 at Oakland Hills, Mich.


* 2009 -- Bethpage State Park, Black Course, Farmingdale, N.Y.

* 2010 -- Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach.

* 2011 -- Congressional Country Club, Blue Course, Bethesda, Md.

* 2012 -- The Olympic Club, San Francisco.

* 2013 -- Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.

* 2014 -- Pinehurst Resort, No. 2 Course, Pinehurst, N.C.


Rocco’s ride

Rocco Mediate pushed Tiger Woods, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, to his limits in Monday’s U.S. Open playoff. Mediate had his chances to win the Open but couldn’t capitalize on them.