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Rocco Mediate hit only eight fairways and just six greens Thursday, but needed just 21 putts. (Redington/Getty Images)

U.S. Open sensation Mediate makes magic happen again

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Rocco Mediate has got this major championship thing down. Mediate scrambled with the best of them on Thursday as he carded one of the three under-par rounds on the board.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England -- He hasn't won a golf tournament in six years. He started the 2007 season holding a microphone, not a golf club, for goodness sakes.

So what was Rocco Mediate doing taking Tiger Woods to the 91st hole before letting the game's No. 1 player add the U.S. Open to his growing collection of 14 major championships? And how can he be there again, tied for the lead at the 137th Open Championship, as those 15 minutes of fame morph into a half hour?

Or maybe more.

The appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" after he finished second at Torrey Pines? Now, that we can understand. Even the glib, garrulous and gracious Mediate, though, was at a loss to explain where he'd conjured up that round of 69 Thursday that left him tied with Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby.

"No idea why that happened," he said simply.

No one else broke par on a dismal day at Royal Birkdale, where the scoring average was 75.976. Given Mediate's fragile back and cranky right hip and the howling wind, the bitter cold and the sometimes driving rain, the 45-year-old's performance is even more impressive.

The round didn't exactly begin auspiciously, though. Mediate bogeyed three of his first five holes, but a birdie on No. 8 righted the ship and three more on the back brought him home in a phenomenal 32. And brought back memories of Torrey Pines, in the process.

"It's like I want to get back in that place that I was a month or so ago," Mediate said. "It's a hard course, it's a long course, it's windy. It was cold this morning. I'm old. You know, there's a few things stacked against you. But it doesn't really matter what I learned at Torrey Pines. It doesn't matter how you get it done.

"Today was by no means pretty. I made every single putt. I hit some beautiful pitches. I chipped the ball in on 17, which is a joke. I'm trying to make 5 and it goes in," he added. "There's a certain person who you all know who isn't here who does that a lot. All of a sudden maybe tomorrow will turn around a little bit and I'll hit it better.

"I don't know what's going to happen, I really don't. It's just survival. Like I said, 72, 73, 74 would have been lovely today. I would have been quite happy with that. I'm ecstatic with this one. This was a lot of fun."

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Mediate scrambled with the best of them on Thursday, too. He only hit eight fairways and just six greens. Those 21 putts saved him, along with what Mediate called in understatement the "fairly lucky" chip-in for birdie on the 17th hole. His other back-nine birdies came from 40 feet at No. 13 and 20 at the 18th hole.

"It's just so hard out there," Mediate, who had eight one-putt greens, said. "There's such narrow corridors out there, those fairways, and the wind is blowing a lot. A lot of times you've just got to survive. I think you'll probably hear that from everybody. But I made pretty much every single putt I could have made today.

"No, it was just one of those rounds. It was just up and down and up and down and a couple birdies and here we are."

Where Mediate is right now is at the top of his game - and in many ways, his profession. After missing the cut in eight of his first 16 starts, withdrawing from another and failing to finish higher than 36th, the four-time PGA TOUR champion rediscovered his desire and determination.

Mediate credits his long-time teacher, Jimmy Ballard, with showing him how to adapt his swing to a problematic back that required surgery in 1994 and has contributed to a handful of PGA TOUR medical exemptions. Then enter physical therapist Cindy Hilfman, who has helped his psyche as well as his back.

"Obviously this year started out just horrible," Mediate said. "It wasn't injuries, but I wasn't playing good and the attitude was no good. We talked through the months about that, and I also told her that this game can turn so fast, it'll make your head spin."

Mediate is living proof. A week after he finished 70th at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, he went to Ohio and tied for sixth at the Memorial Tournament. Then came the runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, a tie for 28th at the Buick Open as fatigue finally set in and a share of 18th at AT&T National.

"I enjoyed the Open, but I haven't really sat and enjoyed it yet," Mediate said. "I haven't had time. I just wanted to keep it going and keep it going, and so far, so good. I don't know how else to explain it. Like I said, it's hours and hours (of stories), but we don't have hours and hours."

Mediate does have three more days to write the ending to his Cinderfella story, though. Should he remain in contention this weekend for his first win since 2002 and his only major championship, Mediate knows he'll be nervous. But he can draw on the confidence he gained in staring down the No. 1 player in the game on one of golf's grandest stages.

"I think I still have one of these (in me)," Mediate said. "Whether it's this week or this month or next year, whatever, I don't feel like I'm on my way out. I feel like I just got a new (lease) -- it's just starting again. I feel that way. Whether it happens or not ... it's almost like I don't really care.

"I just want to get in the situation to see what I really have. That's what you want to test. I was tested a month or so ago. The only thing I didn't like of the results was I lost. I liked the rest of the results because I did about as good as I could do."

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