The man wearing red won the 108th US Open at Torrey Pines on Monday, but for once on the decisive day of a major championship Tiger Woods looked vulnerable before passing yet another milestone on his march towards Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors, defeating the dogged American journeyman Rocco Mediate after one of modern golf's epic days.
The world No1 tapped in for par on the first extra hole to win after the two men had tied their 18-hole play-off, each shooting level par. It was the easiest shot Woods faced on a day that stretched even his talents to their outer limits.
"My greatest ever championship - the best of the 14 because of all the things that have gone on over the past week," he said after picking up the trophy. It was a reference to the persistent problems with his left knee, an injury which must now put his participation in next month's Open in doubt. "I don't know," he said when asked if he would make the trip to Birkdale.
Those who have witnessed Woods's otherworldly efforts at Pebble Beach and the Old Course over the years might take issue with his assessment of his latest triumph, but surely none would deny that yesterday's events were unmatched for sheer, nerve-shredding drama. For this, much credit must go to Mediate, who was given little chance of winning, least of all by himself. Yet the world's 157th-ranked player found reserves of mental fortitude, and skill, even he was unaware he possessed.
"Tiger is unreal," Mediate said afterwards. "I would have loved to have won, but it was a great day. They wanted a show and they got one."
They did, and the drama was all the sweeter for being so unexpected. None of it was foretold before a ball was struck. Indeed, when Mediate showed up for the showdown wearing the same red shirt and black trousers as Woods his prospects looked even more ominous than they might otherwise have been. The last playing partner to indulge in such sartorial cheek at the great man's expense - Luke Donald at the 2006 PGA championship - was dismissed with a routine swipe.
Fortunately Mediate is cast from stronger metal, having earned his spurs — not to mention his money — in a era when life was not quite as lucrative for the jobbing professional. This was his one shot at glory, his one opportunity to emulate his great mentor Arnold Palmer, who won this tournament at Cherry Hills in 1960.
Still, the day began as expected, with Woods taking the lead at the 1st hole. More tellingly, Mediate's approach shot into a greenside bunker confirmed what everyone on the premises already knew: behind the cheery veneer he was a bag of nerves. He hit another poor approach shot at the 2nd but scrambled a par - an escape that was greeted with huge roars from galleries which were clearly on his side. Glee turned into euphoria at the par-three 3rd when Mediate almost holed his tee shot, leaving himself a tap-in birdie, whereas Woods could only manage a bogey four. The two-shot swing vaulted Mediate into the lead. It was the first indication that the day was destined not to be the procession many had expected.