Mediate Moves Three Clear at Bay Hill

By Associated PressMarch 16, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. -- Imagine how Rocco Mediate felt the first time he met Arnold Palmer on a golf course. He was 19 when friends secretly arranged a golf game at Latrobe, and the kid was so overcome by seeing the King that he nearly turned and ran.
 
Imagine how he would feel 25 years later to see Palmer waiting for him Sunday afternoon on the 18th hole at Bay Hill.
 
'It would be pretty interesting to see if I could even talk,' said Mediate, a guy who rarely shuts up.
 
Mediate chatted away through wind and rain Friday, making birdie on two of the toughest holes during his 5-under 65 that gave him a three-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
Tiger Woods was lucky to still be in the mix.
 
Tied for the lead after a 64 in the first round, Woods hooked one tee shot into the water and hit plenty of others into the rough. He closed with four tough pars for a 73, leaving him six shots behind.
 
Asked for any positives to take out of a bad day, Woods replied, 'I broke 80.'
 
'It was pathetic,' he said. 'I struggled all day. At least I'm still in contention.'
 
Mediate was at 9-under 131 and gets to spend a third straight day with Paul Casey, who gladly exchanges the banter. Casey shot 70 and was at 134 with John Rollins, who played with Woods and shot 65.
 
The group at 5-under 135 featured former British Open champion Ben Curtis (67), former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (68), Players champion Stephen Ames (67), Sergio Garcia (69) and Vaughn Taylor, who bogeyed his last two holes for a 71.
 
Mediate is still only halfway home to a handshake with his hero. The fact he is even in this position is almost as surprise as that first meeting with Palmer.
 
He has dealt with back issues nearly his entire career, especially after surgery in 1994. One of the low points came last year at the Masters, where he was tied for the lead going into the back nine until his back gave out. Barely able to swing a club, Mediate put three balls in the water on the 12th hole and made 10, tumbling to an 80 and a tie for 36th.
 
He played sparingly the rest of the year and needed a minor medical exemption to keep his card.
 
Mediate might not have been at Bay Hill except for a chance meeting with Palmer in December when he asked the tournament host about getting an invitation. Then, Mediate changed his mind. He asked Palmer to watch his game over the first few months of the season, and to offer him a spot if it looked as though Mediate was worthy.
 
Mediate tied for ninth at Riviera last month.
 
'I think when he saw me play pretty good at L.A., and starting to see things go up he said, 'Well, let's give him a shot.' And that's very inspiring to me,' Mediate said. 'Whatever happens the next two days, I'm not real concerned.'
 
The golf for two days has been inspiring.
 
Mediate showed his sarcasm by saying the 16th was his easiest hole, converted to a par 4 at 485 yards. He hit driver and 3-wood into 20 feet and made the birdie, which last year would have been an eagle, and to Mediate felt even better than that.
 
Equally impressive was the ninth, which played at 462 yards into a stiff breeze with clouds spewing the occasional shower. Mediate hit a 4-iron from 185 yards into about 3 feet for the finish he wanted.
 
As well as he hit the ball in the opening round, Woods was that much off under shifting winds. He dropped shots on two of the first four holes, then took double bogey on No. 6 with a tee shot into the water. The rest of the day was a grind, as he rarely gave himself good looks at birdie and more often had to scramble for par.
 
Others took a shot at the early pace set by Mediate.
 
Taylor got within one shot with five holes to play until failing to get up-and-down behind the fifth green and getting blocked by the trees on the eighth hole, setting up another bogey. Casey birdied two of his first three holes until the weather got fickle, along with his tee shots.
 
'The goal was always to put myself in the mix of things and hopefully have a chance on Sunday afternoon,' Casey said. 'So I'm very happily placed.'
 
So is Mediate. This is the first time he has had the lead on the weekend since the third round of Greensboro in 2002, which also was his last PGA Tour victory.
 
At his age, with his health, Mediate knows opportunities like this won't come along very often.
 
And doing it at Arnie's place would be over the top.
 
The first time he had an audience with the King was that day in 1982. A couple of buddies told him they had a money game at Latrobe and come over, so Mediate dumped his regulars at Greensburg Country Club. He arrived and saw an imposing figure on the first tee.
 
'I almost turned around,' Mediate said. 'I was so nervous I almost turned around and got back in the car left. I said, 'You know what? The hell with it. So I went up, and the first time I met him, it was like he had known me for a 100 years. He makes you feel that way.'
 
DIVOTS
Tom Johnson hit what he thought was a good shot to the 18th until it hit a bird as it landed, knocking the ball to the right, onto the rocks and into the water. The bird fluttered briefly, then flew around the lake and settled on the shore. Johnson took his penalty drop and a bogey for his round of 69. 'Glad I got him when it was landing softly,' Johnson said. 'At least there was no feather explosion. I was hoping just to clear the rocks. I didn't think I would hit a bird.' ... Charlie Wi withdrew midway through his round with an injured wrist.
 
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    Woods delofts 2-iron to use off Carnoustie tees

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 1:23 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods has been effective this season hitting a 2-iron off many tees, reverting to a version of the stinger shot he made so popular.

    This week at baked out and brown Carnoustie he went to the next level, adding a new 2-iron to his bag that he bent to 17 degrees, down from his normal 20-degree version.

    “I took a few degrees off of it, just trying to be able to have the ability to chase one down there,” he explained on Tuesday.

    Woods said he still carries the club about the same distance, from 245 to 250 yards, but “it gets to its final destination much differently [on the ground].”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “Obviously, it rolls out whereas mine back home, I've generally liked having it 20 degrees because I can hit the ball into the par 5s as an option,” he said. “This one's not really designed for hitting the ball in the air to par 5s as an option. It's more of a driving club.”

    After playing two practice rounds, Woods said he wasn’t sure how much he would use the new 2-iron given the dry conditions which have led to ridiculously long tee shots, and he said he might adjust the club more if the course doesn’t slow down.

    “If it softens up, it could be a good club,” he said. “If it doesn't soften up, then I might just add a degree to it and keep it a little softer and not have it so hot.”

    The Open is the second consecutive event where Woods has added to his bag. At The National earlier this month, he went with a new mallet-headed putter that he plans to continue to use this week.

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    Europeans out to end the recent American dominance

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 12:59 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In golf’s biggest events, the Americans have left the rest of the world feeling red, white and mostly blue.

    If you’re wondering whether the U.S. currently holds a meaningful title, the answer is probably yes.

    Golf’s four majors? Yep.

    The Ryder Cup? Indeed.

    The No. 1 player in the world? Absolutely.

    The Presidents, Solheim, Walker, Palmer and Curtis Cups? Uh-huh.

    It’s been a popular talking point at the men’s majors, as Europe’s finest players have been peppered about why they’ve all seemingly fallen under Uncle Sam’s spell.

    After all, the Americans haven’t ripped off five major wins in a row like this since 1981-82 – when Justin Rose was still in diapers.

    “I don’t know what I’d put it to down to,” the Englishman said Tuesday, “other than the American boys in the world rankings and on the golf course are performing really, really well. The top end of American golf right now is incredibly strong.”

    Since 2000, the Americans have taken titles at eight of the nine courses on the modern Open rota. The only one they’ve yet to conquer is Carnoustie, and that’s probably because they’ve only had one crack at it, in 2007, when an Irishman, Padraig Harrington, prevailed in a playoff.

    Not since Tom Watson in 1975 has a U.S. player survived Carnoustie, arguably the most difficult links on the planet. But Americans ranging from Dustin Johnson to Tiger Woods comprise six of the oddsmakers' top 10 favorites, all listed at 25/1 or better.

    “America, there’s no doubt about it, and there’s no other way to put it, other than they have an exceptional bunch of players at the moment,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “It just so happens that it has been a run of American golfers that have won majors, but at the same time, they’ve generally been the best players in the world at the time that they’ve won them.

    “You don’t really look at them as a nationality. You just look at them as players and people, and you can understand why they’re the ones winning the majors.”

    Indeed, there’s not a fluke among them.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Since this American run began last summer at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka (twice), Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed have hoisted trophies. All were inside the top 25 in the world when they won. All were multiple-time winners on the world stage before that major. And all, most ominously for Europe, were 29 or younger.

    “There’s a bit of camaraderie amongst all of them,” Rose said. “I know Brooks and Dustin are incredibly close, and you’ve got Rickie (Fowler) and Justin Thomas and Jordan as a group are all really close. It’s working really well for them. They’re spurring each other on.”

    That’s why there’s even more anticipation than usual for the Ryder Cup. The Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in a quarter century, but this band of brothers is better and closer than those who have tried and failed before them. Couple that with a few aging stars on the European side, and there’s a growing sense that the Americans could be on the verge of a dominant stretch.

    That should sound familiar.

    During an eight-major span in 2010-11, the most common refrain was: What’s Wrong with American Golf? International players captured seven consecutive majors, including six in a row at one point. They took over the top spot in the world rankings. They turned the Ryder Cup into a foregone conclusion. In the fall of 2010, Colin Montgomerie pounded his chest and declared that there’d been a “changing of the guard over to Europe,” and it was hard to find fault in his reasoning.

    “European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time,” McIlroy said. “It seemed like every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn’t seem that long ago.”

    Because it wasn’t.

    So even though it’s been more than a year since an International player held any title of consequence, these types of runs are cyclical, and Europe in particular has no shortage of contenders.

    Major drought or not, McIlroy is a threat every time he tees it up. Rose turns 38 in two weeks, but he’s playing arguably the best golf of his career, recording a top-10 finish in a ridiculous 17 of his past 21 starts. Fleetwood is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, where he closed with 63. Jon Rahm is a top-5 machine. Alex Noren just won on the Ryder Cup course in France.

    “I think Tommy, clearly, showed how close the Europeans are to challenging that dominance as well,” Rose said. “So it’s not like we’re a mile behind. It’s just that they’re on a great run right now, and there’s no reason why a European player shouldn’t come through this week.”

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    Links to the past: Tiger's return revives Open memories

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 12:51 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods rekindles his love affair with links golf this week at Carnoustie, which seems about right considering his introduction to the ancient ways of the game began here on the Angus coast.

    It was here on the most brutal of the Open Championship rota courses that a 19-year-old Tiger first played links golf at the 1995 Scottish Open, an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

    “I remember my dad on the range with me, saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?’” Woods recalled on Tuesday at Carnoustie, his first start at The Open since 2015. “I said, ‘No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.’”

    During this most recent comeback, Tiger has been all smiles. A new, relaxed version of his former self made calm and approachable by age and the somber influence of injury. But this week has been different.

    During a practice round with Justin Thomas on Monday he laughed his way all the way around the brown and bouncy seaside layout. Much of that had to do with his return to the unique ways of links golf, the creative left side of his brain taking the wheel from the normally measured right side for one glorious week.

    He talked of game plans and strategic advantages on a parched pitch that has seen drives rolling out over 400 yards. At his core, Tiger is a golf nerd for all the right reasons and this kind of cerebral test brings out the best of that off-the-charts golf IQ.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Although there are no shortages of defining moments in Tiger’s career and one can make all sorts of arguments for what would be his seminal moment – from the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open –the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool stands out, based on near-perfect execution.

    In ’06 at Liverpool, which played to a similar shade of dusty yellow as Carnoustie will this week, Tiger hit just a single driver, opting instead for a steady diet of long irons off tees. For the week he hit 48 of 56 fairways, 58 of 72 greens and rolled the field for a two-stroke victory and his third, and most recent, claret jug.

    This Open has all the makings of a similar tactical tour de force. For this championship he’s put a new 2-iron into play that’s more like a strong 1-iron (17 degrees) and imagines, given the conditions, a similar low, running menu.

    “It could be that way,” Woods said when asked the similarities between this week’s conditions and the ’06 championship. “I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees, just because I hit a 3-iron on Monday, down 18, I went 333 [yards]. It can get quick out here.”

    If Tiger ever needed a major championship confidence boost the Carnoustie Open would be it, an inspiring walk down memory lane to a time when he was the undisputed king of golf.

    “[The ’06 Open] is the closest you can compare to this,” David Duval said. “But I struggle to remember that golf course being as fast as this one. It was close, but this one is something else.”

    Ernie Els had a slightly different take, albeit one that was no less ominous to the rest of the field this week.

    “Liverpool is on a sand hill, this has a bit more run to it,” Els said. “But it’s got the same feel. It’s almost like St. Andrews was in 2000. Very, very fast.”

    It’s worth noting that Tiger also won that ’00 Open at the Home of Golf with an even more dominant performance. It is the unique challenges of the links test that make many, even Tiger, consider the Open Championship his best chance to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

    More than any other Grand Slam gathering, The Open is blind to age and the notion of players competing past their prime. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale, then-53-year-old Greg Norman flirted with the lead until the very end, finishing tied for third; a year later at Turnberry, Tom Watson came within one hole of history at 59 years young.

    “It certainly can be done,” Woods said. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes. But links-style golf courses, you can roll the ball. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”

    Whether this is the week Tiger gets back into the Grand Slam game depends on his ability to replicate those performances from years past on a similarly springy course. As he exited the media center bound for the practice putting green on Tuesday he seemed renewed by the cool sea breeze and the unique challenges of playing the game’s oldest championship.

    Coming back to Carnoustie is more than a reintroduction to links golf; for Tiger it’s starting to feel like a bona fide restart to his major career.

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    Woods: New putter should help on slower greens

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 11:35 am

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods’ ice-cold putting showed at least a few signs of heating up earlier this month at The National, where he switched putters and ranked seventh in the field on the greens.

    The mallet-style putter is still in the bag as Woods prepares for The Open, and he’s hoping the heavier model with grooves will prove valuable at Carnoustie.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “To be honest with you, I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career,” Woods said Tuesday. “So for me, it’s going to help on these greens, for sure.”

    To combat the slower greens, Woods usually applied a strip of lead tape to his putter. But this heavier model of putter doesn’t need the extra weight, and the grooves on the putter face allow the ball to get rolling faster and hotter.

    “You don’t necessarily have to do that with the grooves,” he said of the lead tape. “When I putted with the Nike putter, I didn’t have to put lead tape on the putter to get a little more weight to it. I could just leave it just the way it was. This is the same type.”  

    For all of the talk about his putting woes this season, Woods still ranks 56th in strokes gained: putting. More crucial this week: He’s 102nd in approach putt performance, which quantifies how well a player lag putts.