Woods limps down to the wire
TIGER Woods found himself mired in a tense dogfight against Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines when the 108th US Open reached a scrappy climax yesterday with an 18 hole play-off. Both men were on one over par when they arrived on the 15th tee.
Aiming to take a leaf out of Ben Hogan's book after the Hawk won the US Open less than a year after damaging his legs in a car crash, Woods was striving to limp to glory in California. Often in pain over five days of intense competition in San Diego following a third operation on a suspect knee, Woods made light of that handicap to pursue one of the noblest challenges of an astonishing career.
After securing a spot in the two-man showdown thanks to a thrilling birdie on the 72nd hole – both men had signed for 283, one under par – Woods again had to rely on brilliant putting to compensate for a sequence of missed greens, finding only five of the first 13 in regulation.
Having carded three double bogeys at the opening hole during regulation play, Woods proved he was no glutton for punishment in the play-off when he found the fairway off the first tee and shared a lighthearted moment with Mediate about his inexplicable ineptitude. Once the world No 1 located the green with an 8 iron and made a comfortable two putt par, the portents were encouraging.
Bunkered greenside, Mediate, battling to become the oldest ever US Open champion, executed a decent wedge out of the trap but missed the seven foot putt for par. Of course, since this was stroke-play rather than match-play, Woods couldn't afford to think he was one up. By the time Mediate got up and down for par at the second, the contest was joined and the veteran seemed as much at ease in a flame red shirt as Tiger.
Woods ran up a bogey 4 at the short third while Mediate responded expertly when he all but aced the par 3 and seized the advantage with a tap-in birdie. Nursing that wounded knee, Tiger was striving to play within himself. His approach to the third was poorly executed and fell shy of the putting surface. Missing fairways and greens, Woods had to rely on an exquisite chip to save par.
Alastair Forsyth's caddie at Torrey Pines, who usually works for Fuzzy Zoeller, told the Scot he thinks Woods contains the genes of both Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros. When true grit isn't enough to see him through, Tiger can always call on a bewitching short game. He needed it yesterday.
Tiger's 9 iron to the sixth green – a par 4 measuring 515 yards – was a thing of beauty and set up an impressive 3. Another sublime birdie at the seventh took him into red figures before an overcooked tee shot at the par 3 eighth was plugged in a back bunker and cost him a bogey.
Out in 35, level par, to Mediate's 37 (the older man pulled a short par putt on the ninth), Woods might have paid the penalty for a missed fairway at the tenth had he not holed another superb putt. Perhaps discouraged by Tiger's resilience on the greens, Rocco missed again and found himself three over. Against that, Woods made his third consecutive bogey at a par 3 when he was bunkered at the 11th. Another dropped shot at the 12th confirmed the great man was faltering before a birdie at the 13th steadied the ship.
That said, successive birdies at the 13th and 14th brought Mediate back into contention as Woods' birdie putt on the short par 4 lipped out.
Watched by an enormous gallery estimated at more than 20,000, the play-off didn't lack for support. But both men would surely have preferred to finish it on Sunday evening when a local and global TV audience were transfixed. Having fixed many of this championship's old flaws, the USGA should think seriously about introducing the kind of play-off which already works so well at the Open in Britain.
COURSE LAYOUT GIVES EUROPEANS HOPE, PAGE 65
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