At the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods Still Looms Large

SAN DIEGO — Arms folded throughout his chest, Rocco Mediate stared at a small, sq. tv to see if his life was about to vary forevermore.

Mediate stood in a low-slung nondescript space behind the 18th gap grandstand at the Torrey Pines Golf Course, an area so cramped he ducked his head to keep away from wires hanging from the ceiling. He couldn’t see the 18th inexperienced, the place minutes earlier, he made par to take a one-stroke lead in the fourth spherical of the 2008 United States Open.

Mediate, ranked 158th in the world at the time, was making an attempt to grow to be the oldest man, at 45, to win the occasion. He paced nervously, cleats crackling on the naked concrete ground as the picture of Tiger Woods appeared on TV.

Woods, playing without an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and with stress fractures in his left tibia, had a 12-foot birdie putt to tie Mediate and ship the championship to an 18-hole playoff the subsequent day.

Usually garrulous, Mediate was silent as Woods stroked his putt, the ball taking hops throughout the bumpy floor, touring at a hopscotch cadence that appeared sure to ship the putt offline. But the golf ball tickled the fringe of the gap and toppled in.

“Of course he made it,” Mediate mentioned with a chortle, turning to 2 close by reporters. “He’s Tiger Woods.”

Half grinning and half sighing, he regarded away including: “He’s Tiger Woods. Of course.”

Except it could not be that easy. What felt like the finish of Mediate’s time in the highlight turned out to be the starting. And what felt like a renewal of triumphs for Woods as a substitute was the high-water mark of his 11-year dash to 14 main titles. Soon sufficient, for Woods, nothing can be the identical once more.

As the U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines for the first time since that event, when Woods ultimately vanquished Mediate after 19 extra holes in a last-of-its-kind Monday playoff, the 2008 championship is a revered golf memento — when Woods was a shimmering Goliath at the peak of his powers and a rumpled David whose nickname was “Rock,” virtually overcame his fearsome rival.

The reminiscence, the final main title for Woods till he won the 2019 Masters, is especially poignant this yr as a result of Woods can’t play in the occasion after sustaining extreme leg accidents in a February car crash. Still in rehabilitation, Woods recently said his chief objective was to stroll on his personal.

But 13 years in the past Woods was at his greatest, and so was Mediate, and the two are eternally linked.

“Great fight,” Woods, who regarded exhausted, mentioned to Mediate as the two hugged on the ultimate inexperienced. “The best of my major championships.”

Mediate, who was dissatisfied however completely satisfied, answered: “It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf with somebody, let alone against the greatest golfer in the world.”

Five days earlier, the event had begun with Woods’s caddie, Steve Williams, imploring him to withdraw.

Fourteen holes into his first spherical, Woods, whose shattered knee had prevented him from strolling or enjoying golf for the earlier six weeks, was one-over par and spraying pictures far and extensive. “You’ve got many more years to win majors,” Williams mentioned to Woods, who was 32. Woods cursed and mentioned: “I’m winning the tournament.”

Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson performed the first two rounds of the 2008 championship with Woods and suspected there was extra incorrect along with his knee than the “soreness” that Woods blamed for his layoff.

“Tiger looked more uncomfortable than I had ever seen him,” Scott mentioned in an interview this month. “But I don’t know that the crowd noticed. They were going crazy with Tiger and Phil, two California kids, playing on a public golf course in their home state. It was pretty much mayhem out there.”

After 9 holes in the second spherical, Woods had slumped to three-over par and was at risk of lacking the minimize, however he rallied to birdie 5 of the subsequent 9 holes, capturing a spectacular 30 on the second 9.

“He flipped the switch and I remember thinking, ‘Here goes Tiger doing something special — something Tiger-esque — again,’ ” Scott mentioned.

Paired with Robert Karlsson in the third spherical Woods, typically bending over in ache after tee pictures, saved tumbling down the leaderboard. On the par-5 13th tee, his drive was up to now proper it got here to relaxation close to transportable bogs that had been removed from the fairway.

“Tiger was aiming way left off every tee and hitting big slices because that’s how he kept from putting too much weight on his injured left knee on the downswing,” Karlsson mentioned in an interview this month.

Woods’s restoration flew to the again of the inexperienced, 65 toes from the gap atop a steep pitch. On the identical devilish inexperienced that day, Mickelson had three-putted and spun three consecutive wedge pictures off the inexperienced for a quadruple bogey 9.

Woods sank the 65-footer for an eagle. “Tiger-mania was full on at that point,” Karlsson mentioned. “That was an impossible putt. Impossible.”

The 15th gap was a dogleg left, and required a right-to-left draw off the tee, not the purposeful slice Woods had been hitting. Woods must put appreciable weight on his broken left knee. He instructed Karlsson and their caddies that after he swung they need to simply stroll off the tee with out him.

“Tiger then hit this fantastic, piercing draw in the middle of the fairway, but he doubled over after it, leaning on his club to stay upright,” Karlsson mentioned. “He was hyperventilating. He knew that swing was going to hurt like mad but he committed to it anyway.”

“We all walked off the tee quickly like he asked and when we got to the fairway, we looked back and he was still on the tee.”

Consecutive pars and a fortunate chip-in at the 17th gap for birdie — the ball clanged off the flagstick a few foot off the floor and fell into the gap — led to a 30-foot eagle putt on the 18th inexperienced that Woods transformed for a spherical of 70. The surge gave him the event lead at three-under par, two strokes forward of Mediate, who was in third place.

Walking the 18th gap, Karlsson requested Williams if he thought Woods would have the ability to play in Sunday’s ultimate spherical. “Stevie said he thought it was 50-50,” Karlsson mentioned.

Woods made it to Sunday however was three-over par for the first two holes. Mediate shot 71 to take the lead by one stroke. Woods steadily rescued par after par to remain in competition and at the par-5 ultimate gap hit a powerful third shot from the tough to arrange the birdie try that may ship the championship to a playoff after 72 holes.

In the final 13 years, Mediate has watched a replay of the putt tons of of instances. “No one else makes that putt,” he mentioned. “No one.”

Scott has typically been requested by younger golfers what it was prefer to play with Woods in his prime. He cites the final putt of the fourth spherical at Torrey Pines in 2008.

“The young guys can’t quite understand why we all say he was so much better than everybody else,” Scott mentioned. “That putt, while it’s not the longest he ever made, pretty much sums what had happened for 10 years.”

The following day, in the 18-hole playoff, it was Mediate who fell behind by three strokes after 10 holes, however he was buoyed by a crowd drawn to his everyman status.

“Go get ’em, Rock,” followers known as out after his tee pictures.

Mediate, a very good however not nice PGA Tour participant for greater than twenty years, fought again with three consecutive birdies to take a one-stroke lead. As he did the earlier day, Woods birdied the 18th gap whereas Mediate made par to ship the playoff to sudden dying additional holes.

At that second, the PGA Tour professional Kevin Streelman was on a airplane taking golfers and their households to Connecticut the place the Travelers Championship can be performed that week. In the air, everybody watched the playoff on tv, and the jet landed as Woods and Mediate had been headed to a 19th gap. There had been courtesy automobiles on the tarmac ready to drive the gamers to their lodges. No one received off the plane.

Every Cinderella story has a midnight and Mediate’s tee shot on par-4 No. 7 discovered a bunker. His strategy shot missed the inexperienced and a pitch from the tough was effectively wanting the gap. Woods made a routine par, and Mediate missed a prolonged par putt.

Woods walked towards Mediate to shake his hand, and Mediate embraced Woods in a hug.

Two days later, Woods introduced he would have season-ending surgery on his left leg. He returned in 2009 and stormed to 6 tour occasion victories however did not win a significant championship for the first time since 2004. And his yr would worsen. The day after Thanksgiving, Woods had a car accident that led to revelations about his serial marital infidelities. For the subsequent 9 years, Woods, who gained 14 of the 50 majors he performed from 1997 to 2009, entered 24 majors and won none.

Mediate, who watched the final putt of Woods’s fourth spherical in 2008 questioning if he was about to get a life-altering victory, was himself modified by his defeat at the U.S. Open.

“I still get questions about it every single day,” Mediate mentioned. “And my wife will go, ‘What?’ And I say that’s the way it is — they’re asking me a question about something they saw that meant something to them. It wasn’t like Joe’s Open, it was the United States Open. And it was a hell of a battle.”

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