It wont become official until sometime early Monday afternoon when they inscribe his name on the U.S. Open trophy for the third time, pat Rocco Mediate on the back and wish both him and his belt buckle well. Mediates name will go somewhere, too, alongside those like Bob May who have their one chance and are never heard of again.
One bumpy putt that traveled about 12 feet before somehow deciding to fall in the right side of the hole took care of that, touching off one of the better double fist-pump, look-to-the-sky gyrations youll ever see from the baddest golfer on the planet. Woods was so into it that caddie Stevie Williams had to come across the green to help him finish it off properly, and the two engaged in a weird and thankfully brief dance together.
The huge crowd celebrated, too, because they understood that although Mediate had done everything he could, the way of the world of golf is that once Woods does something like this, it isnt wise to bet against him closing it out. For most it was their only chance to have such fun, because theyll be back at their jobs Monday when Woods and Mediate play one last 18 for the Open title.
The USGA insists on sticking to its quaint notion that anything less than an 18-hole playoff is bad for national morale, even while every other tournament has long abandoned the concept. So instead of an immediate playoff to settle it once and for all, Mediate will have to sleep another night before his one chance at glory is finally stripped from him and he is sent on his way.
He would have been a good champion, though an unlikely one, had the final putt by Woods lipped out instead of falling in. The crowd enjoyed their fling with Mediate over the course of a weekend at Torrey Pines, urging him on as he played his way around with a smile on his face and a belt buckle around his waist that looked like it had been stripped from the hood of a Mercedes.
Turns out he has Woods stamp of approval, too.
Roccos a great guy, Woods said. Theres not one person who can say they dont like Rocco.
That doesnt mean Woods will be making much small talk with Mediate as he methodically disposes of him in the playoff. Mediate might be the nicest guy around, but to Woods it wont matter who is teeing it up against him because his victims always look alike.
Well talk, Woods said. But well also understand were try to win a U.S. Open. And well have our moments where well go our separate ways and be focused for each and every shot.
Mediate, on the other hand, seems almost giddy to finally be playing against Woods with the Open on the line. And why not, because it will likely be a nice parting gift to give the 45-year-old journeyman something to tell his grandchildren about when they ask about the time he almost won the U.S. Open.
I have nothing to lose. I cant believe Im in this situation. I cant wait to go see what Ive got against the man, Mediate said. I know what he has. But its head-up and well see how it goes. Its going to be exciting. Im sure theres going to be a lot of heat on me, too, because I know Im playing the best player in the world. And Im the 158th player in the world. Thatll change this week, too. It wont get to second, but it wont be 158th, either.
Actually, Mediate is ranked 157th, but whats one spot where Tiger Woods is concerned?
If Woods had somehow missed the putt that everyone knew he was going to make because, well, hes Tiger Woods, Mediate would have been the oldest Open champion ever. Now hes got a chance to be one day older and the champion, though that chance pretty much comes down to whether Woods can walk on his bum knee or not.
Assuming he can, you only have to look at his 14-1 record in playoffs since turning pro and his 13 major championships to figure how this one turns out. Mediates only been in two playoffs, winning both, and the last was 15 years ago.
Mediate might have thought he was going to steal this one as he paced in the scorers room watching both Woods and Lee Westwood have a chance to make putts to tie.
Westwood wasnt going to make his because hes an Englishman and, while we win a lot of their Opens, they dont fare well in ours. Nixon was the president the last time one did, so Mediate shouldnt have been too surprised when his curling downhill putt for birdie didnt even get to the hole.
That left Woods, who doesnt leave putts short when they count. By now, Mediate looked as if he was going to need the portable heart defibrillator on the wall behind him as he watched the ball hit the right lip and drop in.
Like everyone who was watching, he knew what was coming. This was Tiger Woods, after all.
You know, the guy who will be kissing the Open trophy on Monday.