Woods wins U.S. Open in sudden death

Jun 16, 2008 - 10:29 PM By Simon Lewis PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- It took 91 holes to separate them but Tiger Woods finally overcame Rocco Mediate to claim the 2008 U.S. Open title after a compelling 18-hole playoff went to sudden death at Torrey Pines on Monday.

The victory completed Woods' quest for a 14th major title, leaving the world's top-ranked player only four short of Jack Nicklaus' record. It was Woods' third U.S. Open victory and a seventh at Torrey Pines, his second at the course this year.

Woods said his latest major was one he will cherish.

"It's a close one with the first (major) that I won (at the 1997 Masters) but with all things considered, this week, yeah," he said. "I dealt with a few things this week, and just had to keep plugging along.

Woods was playing his first tournament since finishing second at The Masters on April 13, having undergone surgery on his left knee two days later.

"I don't know how it even got this far but I'm very, very fortunate to have played 91 holes and come out on top," Woods said. I think this is the best, just because of all the things I had to deal with."

Nine weeks on, he forced the playoff in dramatic fashion Sunday, sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to tie Mediate at 1-under. On Monday, he produced another birdie on the final hole to send the championship playoff into sudden death after the golfers posted level par 71s.

Woods said he would "shut down" and spend time resting his knee, but added he hoped to be back in action at Royal Birkdale in England for the Open Championship, starting on July 17.

"I'll take a little time off," he said, before being asked if the Open would be his next tournament.

"I hope so," he replied.

At 45 years and five months, Mediate was looking to take over from Hale Irwin as the oldest winner of the championship and the oldest first-time winner of any major.

"I'm sure that I scared him," Mediate said. "I did good today. I've never had more fun, 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."

In 23 years as a professional, Mediate had won only five of 535 PGA Tour events and in 43 majors he had only three top-10 finishes, two of them, a fourth and a sixth, in the U.S. Open.

Woods had led by three shots after 10 holes, only for Mediate to battle back over the back nine before the world No. 1 leveled once more at the 18th.

"All week I just happened to get off to such slow starts and had to just keep battling back, battle back, battle back, and today was another example of that," Woods said.

The drama reached epic proportions as they entered the closing four holes level at 1-over.

"I already knew that about Rocco," Woods said. "I don't think people realize how much of a competitor he is.

"He's finally healthy and when Rocco's healthy, he's a hell of a player. It's just he hasn't been healthy in years, so now he's finally able to swing the way he can swing and look at the results. This is what he can do when he's healthy."

Over 72 holes, Woods had a three-shot advantage over Mediate on those closing holes, scoring 3-under over four rounds to the veteran's 2-over.

On the 15th, though, the tables were turned as fortunes swung to and from between tee and green. First, Woods found sand on the right off the tee while Mediate landed on the fairway after kicking out of the rough. Woods saw his opponent loft his second shot to 18 feet from the flag and then promptly rolled his bunker shot inside Mediate's ball.

The 45-year-old hit back again by holing out his birdie putt, only for Woods to miss the shorter effort, leaving Mediate with a one-shot lead at even.

There was more drama as the duel continued at the par-3 16th, with Mediate's tee shot falling just short of the green and Woods sending his to its back with the pin centrally located. Both facing monster putts, Mediate rolled his 50-footer to within two feet while Woods left his mere inches from the cup as both settled for pars.

At 17, Woods found the fairway while Mediate caught the intermediate rough. The two-time champion appeared to be in a quandary over club selection for his second shot, before his caddie Steve Williams persuaded him to switch from a 7-iron to an eight.

Woods' faith in Williams was justified as he sent the ball to within 20 feet. Mediate, meanwhile, left himself another long putt from the front of the green for his third shot and sent it to within eight feet before Woods two-putted for par.

That left Mediate putting for par, which he duly completed to take a one-shot lead to the par-5 18th.

Mediate had held a similar lead approaching the 72nd hole on Sunday only for Woods to birdie and force the playoff.

Driving first, Mediate pulled left into a bunker while Woods' tee shot left him grimacing in pain from his left knee but managing to keep his ball in the fairway.

Both second shots cleared the lake guarding the green, Woods left with the longer eagle putt. He sent his 50-footer to three feet, leaving Mediate from 20 feet to putt for the championship. He missed left, and Woods holed to leave Mediate with a short putt to force this remarkable playoff into sudden death for only the third time since its introduction in 1954. Again he failed to convert and the golfers returned to the seventh hole for sudden death.

Mediate was immediately in trouble, following Woods' tee shot onto the fairway by finding the left fairway bunker on the dogleg right. His rescue shot went left again, into a mandatory drop zone just in front of a spectator stand.

As Woods waited by the green to putt, Mediate's chip rolled past the flag, leaving Woods to go first from the front of the green, putting for the championship. Woods' effort was close to finishing the job and he dropped to his knees as his ball stayed above the hole, placing all the pressure on Mediate to rescue his title hopes from 18 feet.

He missed and Woods claimed the title.

"I told him, I said I wanted to have before I got done with my career - which is hopefully another five years out here on this Tour - I wanted to go up against you one time, one last time and in something big," Mediate said. "But I want to do it again now. So I got my wish and I want to do it again.

"I can handle this heat. I've won golf tournaments, but not this stuff. I can handle this heat. And especially against him with everybody in the world all looking in and everything everyone is expecting me to get my (butt) handed to me and I didn't. And I almost got it done. I almost got it done."

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