LA JOLLA, Calif. - Elin Woods easily slips into the crowd finally filing out of Torrey Pines after a U.S. Open that never seemed like it was going to end - one few wanted to see end, except Tiger Woods. It almost seems too easy for Tiger's wife, and arguably one of the most beautiful women in the world, to disappear.
Everyone's caught up in the golf of this Open, though. Even famous blonde bombshells don't have a chance to shift anyone's focus after Tiger Woods birdies the 18th hole for the second straight day to force a sudden-death playoff that he wins on the first extra, extra hole - No. 91 of the tournament.
It's all about incredible shots, unforgettable memories and history. In an Open set up to produce dramatics, Woods exceeded everyone's expectations while moving within four majors of Jack Nicklaus' all-time record 18. He beat Rocco Mediate, the 158th ranked player in the world coming into this week, after blowing another late lead that required another down-to-his-last-shot putt to drop.
Woods had been pushed to the brink in this 108th U.S. Open - the first at Torrey Pines, the municipal complex on the San Diego-area ocean cliffs - by Mediate, who refused to give up even when he fell three shots down to the man he calls "the greatest golfer in history" with only eight holes to play. By a surgically repaired left knee that had Tiger getting pain medication on Sunday and Monday - and has him using the phrase "I hope so" when he's asked if he'll be able to play in next month's British Open. And by the 91 holes it took - the four regular rounds, an 18-hole playoff and one sudden-death deciding finisher.
"This is the greatest thing he's ever done in golf," Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney, kept saying over and over again in the midst of the 18th green trophy ceremony chaos. "It may be the greatest thing anyone's ever done in golf."
Woods called it "probably the best" of his 14 major titles, putting only the first major he ever won (the 1997 Masters) even in the same conversation.
In the playoff, Woods had to hit a 4-and-a-half-foot birdie putt to force Mediate to another extra hole - after the first 18 playoff extra holes of the tournament. On Sunday, in what was scheduled as the final round of this Open, Woods had to hit a 13-foot birdie putt on 18, a hole the USGA set up for a wild finish.
Still, Woods admitted to feeling something he almost never admits to when he stepped up to the 18th tee on a California Monday afternoon.
"I was nervous, and that's a good thing," Woods said. "That means you care. You can try and use that energy a bit to heighten your focus.
"It's pressure, there's no doubt."
Woods hit his drive about 330 yards. Then he drilled a 4-iron right onto the green, reaching the 527-yard par 5 in two, setting up the two-putt birdie. Of course, none of that would have been possible if Woods hadn't recovered from a tee shot on 17 that not only sailed over a crowd that stood 15 rows deep but ended up in a bunker on a parallel fairway.
So what did Tiger do? Hit a laser out of the bunker over the crowd, by one of Torrey's pines and onto the green. That saved him par with Mediate already 1 up.
"Anyone else, and that's the shot of their life," Mediate said. "He had, what, a dozen of those this weekend alone?"
Mediate also missed his own makeable birdie putt at 17 that would have put him up 2 going to 18. That made a player who spent much of the Open as the happiest guy at Torrey Pines start cursing at himself. The real pain was only coming, though.
Mediate hit the worst shot he could imagine on the first sudden-death playoff hole after the 18-hole playoff ended up tied with matching even-par 71s. His drive landed in the short left bunker, while Woods found fairway's edge a short pitch from the green. Then, Mediate hit his second shot off the seventh's grandstand.
In some ways, it was a cruel twist for Mediate that the sudden-death rotation decided on before the tournament went 7, 8 and 18 - with the tournament over once either Woods or Mediate finished a hole with the lead. The par-4 seventh along the water had been Mediate's personal perplexer all Open.
"I've had trouble with the seventh tee shot all week, and I hooked it again," Mediate said.
When Woods hit another short putt on seven for birdie and Mediate missed a longer one to tie, the man who'd almost grown into a cult figure in San Diego in two days - with fans chanting "Rocco! Rocco!" down the stretch of the playoff - finally teared up.
He had come back from 3 strokes down with only eight holes to play. He'd taken the lead on the No. 1 player in the world again - with a curving, 35-foot birdie putt dagger on 15. He hadn't given the tournament away - making the 3-and-a-half footer for par that admittedly had his knees wobbly on 18.
Mediate still doesn't have the big trophy, though. Still, there were more "Rocco!" chants to come.
"It's like a prize fight, and no one expected me to go that long," Mediate said. "When Tiger went up three shots on 10, I know what everyone was thinking: This guy is done. Everyone is expecting me to get my ass handed to me, and I didn't."
Instead, No. 158 forced No. 1 to come back from back-to-back bogeys on 11 and 12, to feel the pressure of someone else's birdie bomb for a change.
"Then, he hit that putt there at 15, and if it doesn't hit the hole, it's probably 10, 12 feet by," Woods said. "But he hit it dead center, and it went in ...
"And it's like, 'Oh, here we go.'"
Now Woods goes off to disappear - probably not as easy as Elin into the crowd, but he'll be off everyone's TVs for at least a month. Which might not be enough time to savor a special No. 14.
June 17, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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