Monday, June 16, 2008

The Heart Of A Tiger...Woods Wins U.S. Open In Sudden Death...

Woods Wins U.S. Open In Sudden Death

By Simon Lewis PA SportsTicker

SAN DIEGO (Ticker)—It took 91 holes to separate them but Tiger Woods finally overcame Rocco Mediate to claim the 2008 U.S. Open title after a compelling 18-hole playoff went to sudden death at Torrey Pines on Monday.

The victory completed Woods’ quest for a 14th major title, leaving the world’s top-ranked player only four short of Jack Nicklaus’ record. It was Woods’ third U.S. Open victory and a seventh at Torrey Pines, his second at the course this year.

Woods was playing his first tournament since finishing second at The Masters on April 13, having undergone surgery on his left knee two days later.

Nine weeks on, he forced the playoff in dramatic fashion Sunday, sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to tie Mediate at 1-under. On Monday, he produced another birdie on the final hole to send the championship playoff into sudden death after the golfers posted level par 71s.

At 45 years and five months, Mediate was looking to take over from Hale Irwin as the oldest winner of the championship and the oldest first-time winner of any major.

In 23 years as a professional, Mediate had won only five of 535 PGA Tour events and in 43 majors he had only three top-10 finishes, two of them, a fourth and a sixth, in the U.S. Open.

Woods had led by three shots after 10 holes, only for Mediate to battle back over the back nine before the world No. 1 leveled once more at the 18th.

The drama reached epic proportions as they entered the closing four holes level at 1-over.

Over 72 holes, Woods had a three-shot advantage over Mediate on those closing holes, scoring 3-under over four rounds to the veteran’s 2-over.

On the 15th, though, the tables were turned as fortunes swung to and from between tee and green. First, Woods found sand on the right off the tee while Mediate landed on the fairway after kicking out of the rough. Woods saw his opponent loft his second shot to 18 feet from the flag and then promptly rolled his bunker shot inside Mediate’s ball.

The 45-year-old hit back again by holing out his birdie putt, only for Woods to miss the shorter effort, leaving Mediate with a one-shot lead at even.

There was more drama as the duel continued at the par-3 16th, with Mediate’s tee shot falling just short of the green and Woods sending his to its back with the pin centrally located. Both facing monster putts, Mediate rolled his 50-footer to within two feet while Woods left his mere inches from the cup as both settled for pars.

At 17, Woods found the fairway while Mediate caught the intermediate rough. The two-time champion appeared to be in a quandary over club selection for his second shot, before his caddie Steve Williams persuaded him to switch from a 7-iron to an eight.

Woods’ faith in Williams was justified as he sent the ball to within 20 feet. Mediate, meanwhile, left himself another long putt from the front of the green for his third shot and sent it to within eight feet before Woods two-putted for par.

That left Mediate putting for par, which he duly completed to take a one-shot lead to the par-5 18th.

Mediate had held a similar lead approaching the 72nd hole on Sunday only for Woods to birdie and force the playoff.

Driving first, Mediate pulled left into a bunker while Woods’ tee shot left him grimacing in pain from his left knee but managing to keep his ball in the fairway.

Both second shots cleared the lake guarding the green, Woods left with the longer eagle putt. He sent his 50-footer to three feet, leaving Mediate from 20 feet to putt for the championship. He missed left, and Woods holed to leave Mediate with a short putt to force this remarkable playoff into sudden death for only the third time since its introduction in 1954. Again he failed to convert and the golfers returned to the seventh hole for sudden death.

Mediate was immediately in trouble, following Woods’ tee shot onto the fairway by finding the left fairway bunker on the dogleg right. His rescue shot went left again, into a mandatory drop zone just in front of a spectator stand.

As Woods waited by the green to putt, Mediate’s chip rolled past the flag, leaving Woods to go first from the front of the green, putting for the championship. Woods’ effort was close to finishing the job and he dropped to his knees as his ball stayed above the hole, placing all the pressure on Mediate to rescue his title hopes from 18 feet.

He missed and Woods claimed the title.

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