Rocco's rant: Tiger will win 25 majors

By Jason SobelApril 2, 2012, 1:49 pm

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.

Getty Images

Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

Getty Images

Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

Getty Images

Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

Getty Images

Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and moral victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with eight holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two young, cute members of his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this riveting performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?