Tigers Stuns Mediate with Playoff Putt

By Associated PressJune 15, 2008, 4:00 pm
2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods wasn't sure if his left knee would allow him to finish 72 holes of the U.S. Open. After yet another defining moment at Torrey Pines, he was thrilled to get a chance at 18 more.
 
Down to his last stroke, Woods holed a 12-foot birdie putt that curled into the right side of the cup on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate, who could only watch on TV as Woods delivered another epic moment in an Open loaded with them.
 
Mediate, trying to become the oldest champion at age 45, two-putted for par from above the ridge for an even-par 71 to finish at 1-under 283, the first time since 2004 that someone broke par in a U.S. Open.
 
It looked like it might be good enough when Woods and Lee Westwood of England, both one shot behind, hit into the bunker on each side of the fairway on the 527-yard closing hole and had to lay up.
 
Westwood's 15-foot birdie putt never had a chance, losing speed and turning away. He shot 73.
 
From an unpredictable lie in the right rough, Woods gouged a wedge out to 12 feet right of the pin. He started to backpedal as the putt neared the hole, paused to make sure it was in, then clenched and pumped both fists toward him with his head to the sky.
 
'Unbelievable. I knew he'd make it,' Mediate said as he watched from a scoring room.
 
Woods shot 73 and will be in a playoff for the third time in a major, this one 18 holes of stroke play on Monday.
 
The 50,000 fans at Torrey Pines, who thought they had seen it all during a most remarkable week, now get a little bit more.
 
It will be the first playoff at the U.S. Open -- the only major that goes 18 holes of overtime -- since Retief Goosen defeated Mark Brooks at Southern Hills in 2001.
 
And it was made possible by Woods, among the greatest clutch putters of all time, making a putt that simply couldn't miss.
 
'A little wobbly down there,' he said of the poa greens, a grass that gets bumpier in the afternoon sun. 'I played probably 2 holes outside right. Just take it back and make a pure stroke, because once it starts slowing down there ... you don't know what's going to happen. All I could control is my stroke.'
 
The birdie concluded a week in which Woods played the first two rounds with Phil Mickelson, shot 30 on his back nine Friday to get into contention, took the 54-hole lead Saturday with two eagle putts totaling 100 feet, and wobbled on a surgically repaired knee that often turned a megawatt smile into a painful grimace.
 
The knee, which sidelined him from the Masters until this week, didn't seem to bother him as much Sunday -- certainly not when he launched into the wildest celebration of the week.
 
'I took some things to kind of relieve that,' Woods said of the soreness.
 
Adrenaline maybe?
 
'Uh, that helps, too,' he said.
 
Mediate made only one bogey over the final 13 holes, seizing on his best -- and perhaps only -- chance to win a major. He grazed the edge of the cup on a 15-foot birdie try at the 17th and hit a wedge too strong on the 18th, both pars keeping Woods in the game.
 
Monday will not be the first time they have tussled.
 
Mediate played with a 23-year-old Woods in the final round of the Phoenix Open in 1999, where he led by six shots and held on to win by three. It was one of his five PGA Tour victories.
 
'Battle royale,' Mediate said of what awaits. 'The thing that is most amazing is the man I'm going to play tomorrow has won 13 of these. It's amazing how much it takes. I gave all I had today and I can't complain.'
 
Woods has never lost a major when he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead, and he came close to throwing this one away on a series of questionable decisions and poor shots.
 
He tried to reach the 13th green in two from 291 yards when a birdie was not necessary, then pulled it into a hazard and walked off with bogey to slip one shot behind Mediate, who had birdied the 14th ahead of him.
 
Woods then laid up with an iron on the 14th, where the tees were moved up to make it play only 267 yards, hit a sand wedge 20 feet beyond the hole and made par. And two shots into the right rough on the 15th led to a bogey that put him one shot behind.
 
Standing over an all-or-nothing putt on the last hole, Woods again delivered.
 
It was reminiscent of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, where he made a six-foot birdie putt that broke both ways to get into a playoff against Bob May, the critical piece on his way to four straight majors.
 
'It feels very similar to what Valhalla felt like,' Woods said. 'If I didn't make that putt, I don't get to continue to keep playing. At best, I gave myself a chance to win the tournament tomorrow. And that's all I can ask for.'
 
Westwood, trying to become the first European in 38 years to win the U.S. Open, fell one stroke short. He had a one-shot lead at the turn and fought to stay in the game after consecutive bogeys early on the back nine.
 
'It's sickening not to be in the playoff tomorrow,' he said. 'But all in all, I played pretty good all week. And if somebody said, 'You're going to have a chance for a playoff on Monday,' then I would have probably taken that at the start of the week. I think I've proved to myself and a few others that I think there is a major championship in me.'
 
Woods even being in contention on the back looked uncertain the way he started.
 
In the final group for the sixth time in the last eight majors, this one was packed with curiosity over the state of his knee, and it showed. Fans stood 25 rows deep behind the tee, and those in the top row of the bleachers on the 18th hole turned to watch. Among those in the crowd was his swing coach, Hank Haney, who pleaded as Woods settled over the tee shot, 'C'mon, buddy.'
 
He snap-hooked the tee shot over the gallery, and so began another journey to double bogey -- his second shot was left and hit a tree, his third shot clipped another tree and stayed in thick rough, his fourth didn't reach the green, and he got up-and-down for a 6.
 
That put him 7-over for the week on his opening hole, and was his third double bogey on No. 1.
 
After a three-putt bogey -- his fourth of the week -- on No. 2, he didn't make another mistake until the 13th.
 
Woods won that three-hole playoff at Valhalla by one shot, and he won the 2005 Masters in a sudden-death playoff with an 8-iron into 15 feet on the first extra hole to beat Chris DiMarco.
 
This one is a full round on a wounded knee against a 45-year-old with a back so creaky he once contemplated retirement. Now, Mediate feels as though he has nothing to lose.
 
'I don't know how you make odds on that,' Mediate said. 'Who knew I would be here playing against him tomorrow?'
 
Then he noticed Woods standing at the door of the interview room.
 
'And you better watch yourself tomorrow, pal,' Mediate said playfully. 'See, he's a little nervous right now.'
 
Woods joined the laughter. Nervous? Probably not. But definitely thrilled to still be playing.
 
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”