Superman vs Everyman. Tiger Woods vs Rocco Mediate.
The US Open is down to two players, one who needs no introduction and another who insists he’s not simply happy to be in San Diego.
The 18-hole playoff on Monday comes courtesy of a last-second save by Woods, whose 12-foot putt on No 18 pulled him into a tie with Mediate.
“I’m playing against a monster tomorrow morning,” Mediate said. Surprisingly, though, not an invincible monster. Woods came into Sunday’s final round with a one-stroke lead and a perfect 13-for-13 record in majors when he held at least a share of the lead after 54 holes. He gave the lead away on the first hole, scraping his way through the rough to a double bogey. Suddenly, what looked like a march toward victory turned into a limp—Woods treading gingerly on that surgically repaired left knee that will now have to make it through 90 holes, not 72. He said he’s happy to get a chance to work through the pain. “If I don’t make that putt, I don’t get to continue playing,” Woods said. “At least I gave myself a chance to win the tournament tomorrow. And that’s all I can ask for.”
Woods shot 2-over 73, Mediate even-par 71.
Lee Westwood also had a chance to be in the playoff. Putting just before Woods, he didn’t put quite enough on his 15 footer from above the hole and finished third, one stroke behind at even-par 284. “It’s sickening not to be in the playoff,” Westwood said. It will be the first US Open playoff since 2001, when Retief Goosen shot 70 to beat Mark Brooks by two strokes at Southern Hills. It was anticlimactic, as these daylong playoffs often are, played in front of a thin crowd. On paper, this match doesn’t look any more promising. “I don't know how you make odds on that,” Mediate said. “But like I said, who knew I would be here playing against him tomorrow?” Mediate made only one bogey over the final 13 holes to keep alive his best chance to win a major. He is No 157 in the world, a fan favorite among the hard-core golf groupies, in part, he says, “because I'm just a normal guy.” Mr. Normal would've been holding up the trophy Sunday night were it not for a missed four-foot birdie putt on No 13, followed a few minutes later by a missed five-footer that would have saved par on 15. But he was not focusing on missed opportunities — only the one that awaits next. “Battle royale,” Mediate said. “The thing that is most amazing is the man I’m going to play has won 13 of these. I gave all I had today and I can't complain.”
Woods, meanwhile, had nothing to complain about despite a day full of mistakes and bad swings, starting with the double bogey, then another bogey on No 2, then later a wild miss on the par-5 13th that disappeared in the brush and turned what he hoped would be an eagle try into a disappointing bogey. Adding it all up, he made only one special shot on Sunday: the birdie at the end that counted most. His knee didn't seem to bother him at that moment. He clenched his fists and pumped both fists toward himself in rapid-fire succession, screaming with joy with his face to the sky. “I took some things to kind of relieve that,” Woods said of the soreness. Adrenaline maybe?
“Uh, that helps, too,” he said.
For a US Open played in prime time on the East Coast, Woods served up plenty of drama. He shot a 5-under 30 on his closing nine Friday to pull into contention.