It doesnt matter that he was raised nearly 3,000 miles east of here, in the Pittsburgh area. It doesnt matter that he has a back that looks as though it was taped together like an erector set. It doesnt matter that his 17-year career has been fairly ' well, average. All you need to know is that once he lands at the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, he is transformed magically into a golfer that even Tiger Woods cant touch.
He won here in 1999. He had runner-up finishes in 2000 and 2001. He still finished in the top 20 in 2002, even though he started out no better than one-over 72.
Woods, in case you might have forgotten, played in Phoenix in 1999. He played the final two rounds with Mediate, as a matter of fact. David Duval was in the field, and he had just finished shooting his 59 days earlier near Palm Springs, at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. And ' there was Mediate, No. 111 in the world ranking, who hadnt won in six years since 1993 at Greensboro, who in the meantime had undergone serious back surgery.
In 1999, Mediate started with a 69, solid but fairly unimpressive. The second round startled a few folks, Rocco firing a 67 in the cold Phoenix chill to grab the lead by a couple of strokes over Woods. The third round was his best, Mediate firing a 66.
So he entered the final stroll around the TPC with a six-shot lead. The rest of the shell-shocked crowd had watched in stunned silence while Mediate calmly went about his business.
Playing front of a crowd that was loudly pro-Tiger ' nothing unusual there ' the question quickly became if Mediate could maintain his composure. A fan almost unraveled him on the 12th hole, which could have been worse except for Woods calmly imploring him to shake it off.
At that point his once-imposing lead had dwindled to a precarious three strokes, but then found a birdie lurking in his bag at the par-5 13th to steady the nerves. And from there he managed to hold it together against Woods and Justin Leonard, who finished in second place two strokes back.
Tiger, incidentally, was part of a bizarre scene at that par-5 13th that has never been seen since, nor likely will be repeated anytime soon in the future.
He lined a drive off-center and off the fairway, the ball finally settling in the desert behind a 1,000-pound boulder. But a PGA Tour officially ' correctly ' ruled that the boulder could be moved, and a dozen fans from the gallery promptly stepped up and pitched in, huffing and puffing while move the offending obstacle out of the way.
Woods eventually birdied the hole. Jack Nicklaus, watching the telecast, said it is an advantage that a superstar such as Tiger has ' and one that, incidentally, a lot of the games greats have had in the past.
That boulder was put there as part of a decoration for the golf course, he said. Its a nice place to have people around to be able to move it for you, but thats perfectly fair.
Perhaps it is only fitting that Mediate went on to win, despite the fans impromptu involvement. But after all, Phoenix had been very good to him. A bogey on 14 followed his birdie on 13, and a timely par on 16 preceded a birdie on the 17th. Rocco had only to find the fairway with a 3-wood on 18 ' he did it with ease ' and this one was gift-wrapped for him.