Wounded Tiger battles back to force playoff

CanWest News Service
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Golf/U.S. Open

He had nothing. No control of his tee shots. No power over his irons. No magic. Not enough painkiller.

Only the flat stick.

Only the facility for blocking out everything else - pressure, an aching knee, crowd, photographers, doubts - and finding the bottom of the hole with his golf ball, one time, when nothing less would do.

Tiger Woods did almost everything he could do to lose the U.S. Open on Sunday at Torrey Pines South, but he hasn't lost it yet - or his unblemished streak of 13 consecutive wins when he's led or co-led major championships heading into the final round.

Rocco Mediate (left) shakes hands with Tiger Woods after the two finished Sunday's fourth round of the U.S. Open tied for the lead at one under par. Mediate and Woods will play an 18-hold playoff today in San Diego. Photo by The Associated Press

La Jolla, Calif. - He had nothing. No control of his tee shots. No power over his irons. No magic. Not enough painkiller.

Only the flat stick.

Only the facility for blocking out everything else - pressure, an aching knee, crowd, photographers, doubts - and finding the bottom of the hole with his golf ball, one time, when nothing less would do.

Tiger Woods did almost everything he could do to lose the U.S. Open on Sunday at Torrey Pines South, but he hasn't lost it yet - or his unblemished streak of 13 consecutive wins when he's led or co-led major championships heading into the final round.

Instead, the world's No. 1 golfer and its finest clutch putter rolled in a 15-foot downhill birdie putt that bounced and rumbled as though it were travelling over a gravel road but fell in the right side of the hole at the final green to put its owner into an 18-hole playoff today with journeyman Rocco Mediate.

Seconds earlier, faced by just a little longer putt, Englishman Lee Westwood didn't get it to the hole, and missed joining the playoff by a single stroke.

Woods, who shot two-over-par 73 to Mediate's 71, knows he's lucky to be alive after blowing his lead on the first two holes with a double-bogey at the first and a bogey at the second. He played the first hole of his four rounds in seven-over-par this week. It ought to have been fatal.

He was fighting his driver, wincing in pain on every big swing, and doubling over more than once, using his club like a cane as he moved to the fairway from the second tee.

Someone wondered at that point if he would even be able to finish.

"Oh, I was going to finish," Woods joked later. "We might have been on the clock, but ... it looked like I'd played myself right out of the tournament after the first two holes, and Rocco could easily have birdied 18 to put it out of reach of both Lee and me."

He started to get the driver under control later, but made a big mistake at the par-five 13th, hooking his approach into a hazard. That cost them both bogeys, and put Mediate in the driver's seat. Woods drove into a fairway bunker and nearly made a mess of the par-five 18th, his last chance to tie Mediate, the 45-year-old who battled like a demon to hang on to even par for the day.

"I had a pure lie in that bunker," said Woods. "If it had been a practice round, I probably would have gone for it, just for fun. But I took out the nine-iron and stuck it right in the sand, and flared it out way right. And then I had 95 (yards out of the deep rough) to the front, 101 to the hole, and just tried to give myself a putt.

"Standing over it, I just said, 'Put a good stroke on this, so you can hold your head high' - and it went in."

Mediate, pacing outside the scorer's hut awaiting his fate, heard the roar before television, with its two-second delay, showed the picture.

"It's the most amazing day of golf I've ever experienced," he said. "I've never had more fun, or more insanity. I just found out what it's all about. It doesn't matter how you do it, you just gotta make the ball go in the hole.

"I knew he'd make that putt. But I made him do it. I don't know if he's ever had to do that in a major before, but he had to do it today."

Mediate had chances to put it away. They all had chances, and all blew them. Torrey Pines bit them all. A public golf course that was supposed to be beatable left two men under par - one stroke under - at the end of four rounds.

"I have nothing left right now. I'm toast," admitted Mediate, but said he couldn't wait for morning.

"Oh, my God. I get to play for our national Open against the greatest player on earth, maybe the greatest who's ever played the game. Why wouldn't I be excited? I mean, I'd love to have made one more birdie and won it today, but I'm going to get to see what I got against The Man. I know what he's got. That's all any professional golfer can ask."

Organizations: The Man

Geographic location: U.S., La Jolla

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