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There’s no reminisce in Tiger Woods, say three major challengers

There’s no reminisce in Tiger Woods, say three major challengers
Tiger Woods hits a shot during a practice round at Merion Golf Club.
(Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

The three players who lost playoff majors to Tiger Woods share the bond of taking the world’s best golfer to the very brink.

They remain cherished memories for the three…and belt notches for Tiger.

Bob May, Chris DiMarco and Rocco Mediate can go to their resting bunkers knowing they made Woods work overtime on the course of his insatiable quest toward Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

Woods enters this week’s U.S. Open at Merion still stuck on No. 14 at the fifth anniversary of his epic Torrey Pines win over Mediate.

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May extended Woods three extra holes at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, DiMarco lost an azalea-breaker at the 2005 Masters and Mediate pushed Woods to 19 extra frames at the 2008 U.S. Open.

This second-place club, maybe over a beverage with Tiger, would love to sit down and talk about the experience. And that’s apparently going to happen over Tiger’s dead body.

DiMarco understood perfectly as he watched the Golf Channel episode of “Feherty” in which Mediate described trying to get Woods to sign some memorabilia to commemorate his epic playoff battle.

Mediate recalled sticking a manila folder in Woods’ locker at the Players Championship containing a post-match picture from the Open and the pin sheet used for the Monday playoff.

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Rocco hoped Tiger would sign something personal that could someday be shown to his grandkids.

Something like, “Nice try, old man, but I didn’t have a leg to stand on … and still beat you!”

Woods didn’t sign the pin sheet and offered only a rubber-stamped autograph on the photo.

“Why wouldn’t he just mess with me?” Mediate asked.

Mediate said he tossed Woods’ autographed picture in the trash can.

DiMarco knew exactly how Mediate felt.

“I was thinking, ‘That’s just Tiger,’” DiMarco reflected during a recent phone interview. “For Rocco, that was a goose-bump moment. For Tiger, it was just another moment.”

History will reflect May, DiMarco and Mediate almost won “the Big One” that Woods has won 14 times.

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“It probably didn’t mean as much to him,” Mediate said in advance of the 2009 U.S. Open.

May never won a PGA Tour event in the U.S., his promising career cut short by a back injury. DiMarco has had a nice run, with three Tour wins, and had other solid performances in majors. He and Justin Leonard lost the 2004 PGA Championship in a playoff to Vijay Singh.

Mediate is a six-time PGA Tour winner and back-pain sufferer who now slugs it out on the Champions Tour.

May, DiMarco and Mediate won’t be playing at Merion this week.

All will be remembered most for their memorable defeat.

“I have never gotten more notoriety for not winning a golf tourney in all my life,” DiMarco said. “Because I took him to the end and never backed down.”

You forget sometimes how brilliantly all three played.

This wasn’t Sergio Garcia jumping at Tiger’s shadow at the recent Players Championship and then plunking three balls into the water.

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May, DiMarco and Mediate could have/should have been major champions.

None succumbed to the “intimidation factor” associated with playing against Woods.

May was a local junior star on the Southern California scene years before Woods came along.

“Tiger Woods puts his pants on just like I do,” May said between lessons at the golf academy he runs in Las Vegas. “He just doesn’t snap his fingers and put them on. He is human.”

May lost a three-hole aggregate playoff at Valhalla despite shooting 66-66-66 in his last three rounds.

“Everyone has fallen victim to him,” May said of Woods. “But I was the first one to really stand up and challenge him.”

May hardly choked, recording only two bogeys over his last 62 holes. He worked the final-round back nine in five-under 31. May stuffed home a birdie putt on No. 18 that forced Woods to make a putt to force a playoff.

Woods seized a one-shot lead on the first playoff hole after rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 16. Both players made par at 17.

Needing birdie at the par-five 18th, May left one foot short an impossibly difficult S-curve putt over a mound.

Woods, 24, made par to claim his fifth major title.

“We never backed away from each other,” Woods said afterward.

May was only 31 then, but his career was cut short by a back injury that still prevents him from playing recreational rounds with his kids.

May said he and Woods used to work out at the same gym in Las Vegas, but the subject of the 2000 PGA was not discussed.

May didn’t think it was a conversation he should initiate.

“Maybe he would like to say, ‘Hey, Bob, wasn’t that a great deal?’” May said. “I would love to talk with him about it. But it’s hard for the winner to bring it up to the guy who lost. Do you really want to reminisce? But none of us were losers that day. He happened to beat me. I played the best I was able to play.”

DiMarco said there’s one thing you need to know about Woods.

“He is all business,” DiMarco said. “When he wins a trophy, it goes on the mantel, it’s done. Let’s do the next one.”

DiMarco was the one left to hold the “what-if” bag.

His 12-under 276 score in 2005 at Augusta National would have been good enough to beat Arnold Palmer in three of his four Masters wins (and force a playoff in the other).

The 276 total was bettered by Nicklaus in only one of his six green-jacket victories.

Nothing was conceded at the 2005 Masters.

Woods, remember, made that for-the-ages chip-in at the par-three No. 16 hole, but people forget: He blew a two-shot lead with bogeys on his last two holes.

DiMarco’s chip from off the green at No. 18, which would have given him the green jacket, hit the pin.

Woods prevailed with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. The war ended on the 28th hole played on Sunday, 19 in the final round after nine morning holes left over from suspended play on Saturday.

DiMarco would love to rehash the details but so far has taken only a few practice-range digs at Tiger.

“Lucky-expletive chip,” he playfully sometimes chirps at Woods.

And Woods just smiles.

DiMarco said Woods has a good sense of humor that often is smothered in his protective cocoon.

DiMarco, who attended Florida, once marked a golf ball “Go Gators” and rolled it to Woods on the practice range. Woods took out a Sharpie, replaced “Go” with an expletive and rolled it back.

The ball is in the souvenir case because DiMarco says, “I think it’s the only ball he’s ever signed!”

It is simply not in Tiger’s DNA to be retrospective at this point.

“It would be kind of nice to see the humanity in him,” DiMarco said. “I know it’s there. But on the golf course it’s all business. That’s how it is. That’s how he is.”

DiMarco cherishes a personalized Ryder Cup photo inscribed by his early mentor, Jay Haas.

“I look at that picture every day,” DiMarco said.

Mediate was seeking a similar memory jog when he asked Woods to personalize his U.S. Open picture.

Mediate, who was 45 in 2008, would have earned the trophy he coveted most if not for one of the greatest and grittiest efforts in sports history.

It took the wounded-knee Woods 91 holes (72 in regulation, plus 19 on Monday) to finish off Mediate. Woods had to baby-talk home a slithery 15-foot putt on No. 18 just to force the next-day playoff.

“I knew he was going to make it,” Mediate said on camera from the scorer’s tent.

Doesn’t he always?

The next day, after clawing back from three shots down, Mediate missed a 16-footer on the 90th hole, at No. 18, that could have won the playoff.

They went to the 91st hole, the par-four No. 7, where Mediate’s wayward second shot into the grandstands basically secured Woods’ 14th major victory.

Maybe someday — but definitely not today — Woods’ three playoff victims would love to fill in some of the details.

“It would have to be a perfect situation,” DiMarco said of a sit-down with Woods. “And we would just start talking. I think it would be fun for the both of us. I’d love to hear his side. I’ve heard little bits before. He certainly has a lot of respect for me. I think he wants to be pushed. He doesn’t want to coast to victory.

“And look … May, myself, Rocco, we all did that.”

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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