- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) | Powerless to put Tiger Woods away and exhausted from this U.S. Open that would not end, Rocco Mediate plopped down above a bunker on the 18th green, crisscrossed his legs and scribbled down his score.

The 91st hole would have to wait.

Woods, who had just birdied No. 18 to force a playoff for the second straight day, chuckled as the 45-year-old Mediate caught his breath.

Mediate’s quest to become the oldest golfer to win a major came to a crashing end on the first hole of sudden death Monday when Woods secured his 14th major.

An appreciative crowd that cheered Woods’ victory burst into one more chant of “Rocco! Rocco! Rocco!” for the underdog with the peace sign belt buckle and gift of gab who plays the crowd, if not always the course, like Lee Trevino.

“It was unbelievable,” Mediate said. “Yeah, this is huge for me.”

Not only because he vaulted from 158th in the world ranking into the top 50 or because he won’t have to go through a qualifier next year like he had to just to get into this year’s Open.

But because he proved something to himself just a year removed from commentating on the Golf Channel and contemplating retirement from competitive golf because of a bad back.

“It just showed me that I still can compete, and I want to keep competing,” Mediate said. “I never quit. I never quit, and I’ve been beaten down a few times.”

So he’s not going to lament this loss long.

“I got what I wanted,” Mediate said. “I got a chance to beat the best man in the world, and I came up just a touch short. But I think I had him a little scared once, which was great. He just said ‘Great fight!’ to me, and that makes it a little better, I think.”

Woods blew an early three-stroke lead before he carbon-copied his Sunday birdie on 18 that forced Monday’s 18-hole playoff. Mediate, who missed his long shot birdie putt on 18 - “I was nervous as a cat” - sank his 3-footer for par to force sudden death.

On the first hole, the par-4 seventh, the oceanside course that bested every other golfer here save for Woods finally got to Mediate.

“I almost, I just about got him,” Mediate said. “But I had trouble with that seventh hole tee shot all week, and I hooked it again in that bunker, and I caught it in a horrible place.”

But no regrets, he insisted.

“My heart is all over the golf course. I have nothing left,” Mediate said.

Mediate put himself in a position to win when he birdied the 13th through 15th holes, capping his run with a 25-foot putt that put him a stroke ahead of Woods.

“Oh, my God, that was ridiculous,” Mediate said. “Yeah, I’ve never had more fun. I’ve never … it’s just amazing. He’s hard to beat. I threw everything I had, the kitchen sink, everything, right at him. I was three down through 10. It could have been over pretty quick, and he hit that ball in the bunker, not that I felt he was going to, like, bogey, but it’s not the easiest shot, and I hit a good shot, and all of a sudden - bang, bang, bang, I pick up three, four shots, and in a few holes and I’m one up.”

But this is Tiger Woods. In a playoff. At a major.

And this was Rocco Mediate. In a playoff. At a major.

Going up against Woods with so much on the line was the one thing Mediate said would be a career-capper.

“But I want to do it again now,” he acknowledged.

“He’s so remarkable. We had a great time, and it’s just I like the way I handled it 1-up with three to play,” Mediate said. “I hit pretty good shots.”

And he had a 20-foot putt for birdie on 18 that would have won it, too.

But he couldn’t pull it off.

And so Woods, after stepping back when a seagull’s shadow interrupted his focus, sank his birdie putt.

“It’s like a prize fight,” Mediate said. “No one even expected me to be [here] that long or survive, and he had to birdie the last again to tie me. Again. And he did it. It’s amazing.”

Woods insisted he isn’t one of those who only now can appreciate Mediate’s grit.

“I already knew that about Rocco. He’s not only one of the nicest guys, but people don’t realize how much of a competitor he is,” Woods said.

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