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Glory Pines - Elated Mediate Catches Woods, Forces U.S. Open Playoff
Picture a wintry classroom in New England, 13 small desks in an oval around Mr. Litwin, my British Literature teacher. Eight-foot fluorescent tubes burn their cold white light overhead. Dusty blackboards line the walls. All eyes fixed on Mr. Litwin and a respectful hush descended. We were waiting and he was ready with a challenge.
"Tell the class the truest sentence you can think of," he said.
The kid to my right, the class lugnut replied, "A friend in need is a pain in the ass." When the laughter died down, I was next.
"Jay?" Mr. Litwin asked.
I thought for a second and dug deep. I came up with one of few true things I know. "Where there's life, there's hope."
Cut to San Diego, Monday morning at dawn. The sun beams joyously. The sky filled with singing bluebirds all cooing refrains to Tiger Woods's greatness. Some of them are even on television with microphones. A heavenly host of angels chants, "Glory to Tiger's hot putter…"
Everyone predicted a coronation. "It was Tiger's tournament to lose," broadcasters bellowed in stentorian tones, handing down Tiger-philic edicts in their glorious, booming voices. Well, someone forgot to tell about Rocco Mediate his role. Or maybe he didn't memorize his lines. Maybe, behind the scenes, the 45-year-old handed out script revisions to Act IV when Tiger wasn't looking. Whatever happened, now, like a Shakespearean drama, we get the critical, deciding act V. Two swashbuckling heroes with square off for golf's version of pistols at down, an 18-hole showdown at medal play for the United States Open champion.
It really is Act V in another way as well. Woods won two acts, rounds one and three, each by two strokes. Rocco won two acts, rounds two and four, each by two strokes. Now it's the deciding game in a golf "best-of-five."
We will have an American winner this year. We may see the oldest U.S. Open champion in history if Mediate wins. Quick! Name the oldest right now! You're right, it's Hale Irwin at Medinah in 1990. He sank a 45-footer across a green at the No. 3 Course, then edged Mike Donald in 19 holes.
Rocco can hold out that long. He has more than a puncher's chance. He's too amped up to give up. He's gritty. He's got confidence. After all, Tiger may have closed with a birdie, but he beat Tiger by two on Sunday, when only last night, he was a punching bag by fans and pundits. In fact, Tiger spent more of the day chasing Rocco rather than the other way around, the way most pundits expected.
Woods got behind the 8-ball with a ghastly double-bogey at the first. He flailed at the ball after driving in the long rough. He chipped like a frustrated hacker. He looked human. Torrey sure looked like a U.S. Open course there, didn't it?
He also looked hurt. There's no question Woods is gutting it out. But that makes two of them. Rocco, expected to fritter away strokes like so many others in the crucible of Sunday at a major with Tiger on the prowl, found himself in the lead out of the gate. Then Woods bogeyed No. 2.
Rocco might have thought, "He has me right where he wants me," after yesterday's fireworks. He almost made that prophecy come true. On two separate occasions Woods caught and passed Rocco. Then the unfathomable happened. Tiger found a random patch of ice plant on the 13th. All the talk coming into the tournament was about the kikuyu, but have you ever seen ice plant? Take pachysandra and make it thicker and more rubbery. It'll stop a golf ball in its tracks.
Tiger paid dearly for the mistake. It cost him the win in regulation. He played from behind the rest of the way.
How long can Rocco keep this up? As long as is necessary. He has enough energy for three of us. He is fearless and tough. He says exactly what you or I would say. "I want the ball."
That's how you achieve greatness. That's how Jack Fleck routed Hogan. He didn't just beat him, Hogan never got close. Bobby Jones lost two U.S. Open playoffs. Francis Ouimet beat the unbeatable Harry Vardon, who once raced though America like manifest destiny. Trevino crushed Nicklaus at Merion in 1971 after throwing a rubber snake at him right before they teed off.
I'd give anything to see Rocco throw a rubber snake at Tiger on the first tee.
During his interview, his eyes prowled around at times. At others, he beamed. He said, "I'll be nervous as a cat, like I always play." He told us he was completely drained. Then he saw Tiger and clowned around shouting, "You better watch yourself tomorrow, pal! See? He's a little nervous right now!"
Is he too excited? I don't know what to read in it. I known he was nothing short of hyperactive in the interview. Normally, you don't want to be emotional in golf, but you know what? Tiger proves that adage wring all the time.
There's an old rustic proverb that's similar, "spirit is three fourths of the remedy." Rocco Mediate has courage; he has plenty and to spare. If you'd have given him a rake and an Easter Egg to play with and pack of matches for light he would have gone out with Tiger Woods right then and there. He took a playful gibes at Tiger in his press conference. He could barely sit in his seat. There wasn't that much energy and comedy since John Daly at Southern Hills last year.
"Who wouldn't want their shot?" he shouted with unrestrained excitement.
"He was like a little boy, wide eyed with wonder, "said golf fan Delinda Lombardo of San Diego. After shooting a gutsy level-par 71 in the final round of the U.S. Open, the 45-year old Mediate swashbuckled his way into history, one way or another.
So it's pistols at dawn for the U.S. Open. Rocco playing the part of The Bride in Kill Bill - Black Mamba shouting at O-ren Ishii, "We have unfinished business." It's two samurais tomorrow and they'll have a long and bloody battle over clifftops.
In the end, Torrey wins. Woods will have some magic for us tomorrow. He always does. He won't dust Mediate. He's injured. But he'll have a virtuoso performance saved up for a moment like this. Can Rocco withstand? He's not as long or consistent, but, as Furyk once said in a similar situation, "If I'm down, I'm going down swinging." Sure, Rocco can possibly repeat his greeting to the media in his interview, "I bet you didn't think I'd be here today." Still, Woods has deeper talent and strength.
But hey, where there's life, there's hope.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.