Two Men, 18 Holes

That’s what we’ll have in a few hours after yesterday’s insane final round of the U.S. Open, where no one really feels like winning the thing too much every year — it always goes to the person who fucks up the least on the course, and the USGA likes it that way — in order to protect the integrity of par.  Watching Rocco Mediate’s aw-shucks-45-year-old-dad-Chatty-Cathy act on the course is amusing, but watching Tiger Woods try to keep his Willis Reed act going is good too, particularly when he decides to hit some really lousy shots.

The first two holes of Torrey Pines appear to be Tiger’s nemesis — he’s shot +7 on the first hole for the tournament, so a playoff is no lock for Woods, trying to hold on to his unbeaten record at majors when he holds the lead or a share of it after 54 holes.  That lead wouldn’t have been possible without a disgusting birdie chip on 15 on Saturday and the eagle putt on 17 later, but he promptly gave it away to Lee Westwood after the first two holes on Sunday — and Westwood then gave it to Mediate, who gave it to Woods, and gave it right back with a lousy 13th hole play.

Woods saved himself with the mother of all birdie putts after shanking one into the bunker on the par-5 18th, resulting in the psyched-up adrenaline rush fist pumping you likely saw on TV. I half expected him to break into Sam Cassell’s Testicle Dance after the damn thing; watching him grimace on his left knee is actually more agonizing than his bad shots.

Mediate is in this playoff because he didn’t try to out-think himself or play beyond his means.  There were a couple of putts on the back nine that he could have saved par on or gotten a much-appreciated birdie, but he made the smart moves with the clubs when he had to and hit the fairways routinely. Woods’ knee makes him a boom-or-bust proposition, which is probably the best chance for the Pennsylvania native to become the oldest ever U.S. Open champion.

But it may not be in Rocco Mediate’s best interest to see Tiger Woods get a fifth pass at this course. We’ll find out in a few hours.

Photo: AP/Matt Slocum

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