Tiger Gets a Piece Of The Rock

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2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- At exactly 8:34 a.m. local time Monday at the U.S. Open caddie Steve Williams handed Tiger Woods a driver. Woods had warmed up with the shorter clubs and was in full a lather.
 
As Woods eyes, instructor Hank Haney, scrutinized, Woods hit 11 crisp bullets. A few cuts. A few draws. A few high. A few low. All crisp.
 
Then Woods grabbed a wedge and struck a few more balls for tempo. Williams then handed his man the driver one more time. Tiger laced it. And off they were to the putting green.
 
This exercise was conspicuous for its effortlessness. Not once did Woods display the hint of a wince.
 
And that was the first indicator, less than a half hour before the beginning of his 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate, that Woods was in the beginning stages of playing through the pain in his surgically-repaired knee that had commanded so much of his attention all week.
 
The playoff would actually take 19 holes. Mediate would birdie the 13th, 14th and 15th holes in regulation and build a one-shot lead going to the 18th. Tigers two-putt birdie forced sudden death. And Mediates bogey on the first playoff hole put an end to a memorable week for him and Woods.
 
They wanted a show, Mediate said of the week and the day and the moment. And they got one.
 
When Mediate looks back on this week he will relish the fan favorite that he became in Southern California, Tigers back yard. The Mediators, someone named his hordes of adoring fans.
 
Woods now looks forward. This was his third U.S. Open victory and, perhaps more important to his priorities, his 14th major championship win.
 
Suddenly Jack Nicklaus record 18 major championship wins isnt so far in the distance. If Woods mends his knee and wins just one more major championship this year,he will enter 2009 with Nicklaus squarely in his sites.
 
A Woods Grand Slam next year, under this scenario, would also push him past Nicklaus and into uncharted golf waters.
 
It was just an unbelievable week, said Woods, who has now won each of the four majors at least three times. This is probably the greatest tournament Ive ever had.
 
For Mediate, a 45-year-old journeyman, it was inarguably the greatest tournament hes ever had. He now works with longtime Los Angeles teaching pro Eddie Merrins and they have done a lot of terrific work together.
 
But Mediate built his game working with Rick Smith, Phil Mickelsons former teacher.
 
Twenty-six years, Smith said by phone while the playoff was in progress. Smith was at Oakland Hills, site of this years PGA Championship, doing an outing and he was watching on television.
 
This is killing me, he said when Mediate drove into the bunker and couldnt salvage par on the final hole.
 
Earlier in the week Smith and Mediate had exchanged text messages. I told him his method was superior, Smith said. It may look funny, but its superior.
 
Mediate texted Smith back with these words: True. So true.
 
The real truth in golf remains Tiger Woods. His camp will have to huddle now and determine how much time he needs to take off before the next major, the British Open at Royal Birkdale next month.
 
But the echoes from Torrey Pines where he has now won seven times as a professional will not be dying down any time soon.
 
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