He’s outspoken. He’s loquacious. He’s been one of the game’s best quotes for years.
Rocco Mediate is one of the few professional golfers to whom a reporter can pose a single question, then get out of the way and just hope the tape recorder doesn’t run out of battery power.
In fact, that’s exactly what I did in advance of the Masters, a tournament about which Mediate knows plenty. He’s competed in 10 of ’em and just a half-dozen years ago, he held the outright lead while playing the ninth hole – until his game left him and a balky back arrived, resulting in a T-36 finish.
Mediate isn’t in the field this time, but as always, he has an opinion on the upcoming proceedings, especially with Tiger Woods emerging as the betting favorite. The two own a special bond, with the latter holding off the former in a sudden-death playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open, generally regarded as one of the greatest wins of Woods’ illustrious career, if not the singular greatest.
In regard to this edition of the Masters, I asked Mediate one simple query, then sat back and let him do his usual thing.
Q: So, who do you like this week?
A: Believe it or not, I like Mr. Woods. I like him because of this: I was very critical, as most people know, back in August or October of last year. All on Mr. Foley, whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit about – not personally, but I’ve read up on him. And I’ve been watching Tiger like I do all the time. … I remember I said back then, ‘If Tiger gets the club back up in the air like it’s supposed to be instead of around his (butt), he’s going to be back to normal.’ Now, is he back to normal? No, he’s not. But the club is getting up more and in a better place. Sean has done a really good job with him. I want to talk with Sean; he’s figured him out. Not that he didn’t know it, but he tried to get rid of this other stuff that was in him before from whomever – and that’s not an easy thing to do.
You saw what happened [at Bay Hill] and a few weeks before that at the Honda. All of a sudden, the shots were looking more like they used to. I see a lot of things that most people don’t see, because I watch everything. Now, we know he’s putting better, but he always putts good. He had a couple of months or years of normalcy, let’s say. Too bad, that’s how it is. But when the ball starts going in the vicinity of where he’s looking, everybody else – in layman’s terms -- is (screwed).
You saw it on Sunday at Bay Hill. … He had a one-shot lead going into Sunday and won by five. Kind of eerie, isn’t it? We need to have Mr. Woods – actually The Kid; I call him The Kid because I’m 500 years older than he is – do exactly what he’s doing right now. When he gets to Augusta, if the ball is going kind of where he’s looking, everybody else is playing for second. … When he wins a golf tournament, especially after the last couple of years that he’s gone through and the bull that he’s heard – and from me, too; I’m guilty of that – if he pulls that off, it’s genius. It’s what we need in our sport.
If you look, over the last couple of years, when he’s been off the map, no one is taking the reins. It’s not good, I don’t like it. Every sport has a dominant guy. When they don’t, it becomes kind of boring. … Look at the Honda Classic, for example. I was there. There were 150,000-160,000 people coming to watch golf. Who do you think they came to watch? Name one other guy. Throw Rory McIlroy in there, but out of 160,000, maybe 10,000 came to see him.
Now, Rory is amazing. I love Rory. … I’m just saying that Tiger moves the needle. No one else moves the needle – he is the needle! Rory is going to be a great player, I love everything about him. He’s one of the sweetest kids in the world, great family, but no one is Tiger, man. No one. … If this guy goes away, we’ve got a problem – a big problem. … I want him to win 100 majors.
My point is, if I’m one of these kids – one of these top-10 or top-20 players in the world – I want him at his best. I need him at his best. Because I want to try to beat him. Even if I don’t beat him, I want to get a shot at it. Do you think Rory McIlroy wouldn’t want to play against Tiger when he’s playing his best in the final round of the U.S. Open? He’d better want to do it – and I’m sure he would. Same with all of these other great players, but as you saw on Sunday at Bay Hill, it didn’t happen. Tiger played a reasonably good round. He played good enough to beat everybody. That’s what he does. Only 72 times. So once he gets that taste again, he’s going back to what he knows.
I’ve said this for years: If he can figure out how to drive his ball a little bit better, he’s going to win 25 majors. I’m telling you right now, he’s going to win way more than 18. … Just because he’s 36 now, he’s stronger and better than he has ever been. He just had a physical problem, that’s it. I mean, the mental stuff was obviously not good. But his ball was going sideways not because of mental problems, but because of physical motions.
Foley – and I’m going to say this right to his face – has gotten it done. I don’t know Sean, but I’ll give him credit. I said some stupid (stuff). I mean, it wasn’t stupid, it was just like, ‘Come on, dude. From where the club is, the ball is going to go sideways.’ Now he’s hitting down and the ball is kind of going where he’s looking.
I have no reason to say it. I haven’t talked to Tiger; it’s not like I’m his best friend. I’m not saying it for any reason other than that’s what I’m watching. I watch a lot and I see a lot of things that are going on. I’ve been out here 27 years and I know what’s going on. It’s like in that movie ‘A Few Good Men’: We want him on that wall, we need him on that wall. When he puts the numbers up, guys get better. It’s that simple. What’s going to happen to these top-10 guys when he starts winning two or three out of every four? They get better.
Tiger has never really had to prove people wrong, because he was always the best guy. Over the last few years, all of a sudden Tiger has dropped to No. 40 or 50 in the world, which is a joke – I mean, even when he is playing his worst, I still think he’s the top player in the world.
Now here’s the danger: Before, everybody knew he was the best guy. Now he knows he’s still the best player. Everybody until a few weeks ago was like, ‘He can’t do this, he can’t do that, he won’t win again, he won’t win another major’ – which is a joke, a complete joke. All of a sudden, he beats a pretty good field at Bay Hill and everybody’s going, ‘Uh-oh. What are we going to do now?’ … His major career is over? He’ll never beat Jack’s record? Bull.
He just proved something (at Bay Hill) to everybody, including himself. He still had to win. You can know how good you are, but who cares? He put the numbers up under very difficult conditions. It wasn’t an easy golf course. I don’t care if he’s won there 40 times; he’s still got to make the ball go where he’s looking and he did it. Again. I was very happy to see that happen. I was ecstatic. And Mr. Foley should be ecstatic, too, because everybody, including me, thought that this was the wrong guy. What do we know? We don’t know anything.
I think at Augusta National he is the dude to beat. Now you give this guy confidence, that’s trouble for everybody else. Because when he gets a taste of that, these other guys are done. I’m telling you. He’s only won there four times; he should have won 10 by now, but he’s only won four. … I want to see him do it again, because I think he can do what everybody thinks he can’t do right now. If he can keep his driver in play, it’s over. That’s all she wrote.
He’s No. 1 in the driving statistic. … That’s what he was before, back in the early 2000s. A guy with that much power and speed, and an ability to hit fairways again? … He’s the strongest, best guy. He’s not unbeatable, but toe-to-toe, play him 10 times and he’ll win nine. That’s if he knows where the ball is going – and he kind of does right now.
He’s the No. 2 golfer all-time right now, at least statistically. … I want to see him be that guy like he was last week. I want to watch it. I want to watch him do his thing at Augusta, because it’s good for him and it’s good for our game.