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Rocco just rolling along having fun at another major
Rocco Mediate has always been a fan favorite. But given what he's done the last two months at the U.S. Open and here at Royal Birkdale, he's taken his stature in the game to a whole new level.
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
SOUTHPORT, England -- The stubble is far past the old 5 o'clock shadow.
It's taken on that scruffy, nerf-herder look. Rough. Rugged. Just what you need to battle the relentless wind whipping off the Irish Sea. The best defense when you know that more rain and 45-mph gusts are just around the corner.
Rocco Mediate threw back his head one more time and chuckled. Perfect, dontcha think, for this 137th Open Championship?
And, isn't this the definition of golf?
"It's the definition of insane golf," he chuckled.
Insane and Rocco. You can't separate the two. Never have been able to. But the last month? He's taken it to a new level.
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The U.S. Open? It was awesome. But now he's following it up by chasing Greg Norman at Birkdale. An opening 69. A second-round 73. Two shots back going into the weekend. Another major chance. Another major stage.
People can't get enough of him. Even the scruff. He shoots from the lip and never slows down. He can't go 30 seconds without a quip followed by a smile. Or a chuckle.
And as for tomorrow's forecast of 45-mile gusts?
"I don't know if you could have any expectations tomorrow," he said.
Don't let him fool you. He pushed Tiger to the limit at Torrey Pines and he's right there for the second major in a row. And, unlike some of his countrymen, he's not focused on the Open weather and whether it's fair, but rather what he needs to do.
"It's absolutely fair. Why wouldn't it be fair?" he said in his trademark rapid-fire style. "There are certain things you get to do here. For instance on the sixth hole and a few holes long and into wind, if I'm not long enough to hit it far enough to play the hole, too bad. that's just how it is.
"I have to hit 3-woods and hybrids into these holes when other people are hitting 4- and 5- irons. That's too bad. I just have to deal with it. I was 40-50 yards behind Angel (Cabrera) and Paul Lawrie. And that's just the way it is."
Rocco is approaching rock-star status in the States. He's brought a whole new group of non-golfers to the game because he's not afraid to be himself -- a 47-year-old who listens to hard rock, heavy metal and wears peace sign belt buckles; a player with a creaky back and an indomitable spirit and a pragmatic, yet optimistic view of life.
Take his thoughts on the challenge of the Open. "I love it. I absolutely love it," he said. "How can you not? It's the Open. I hear it's supposed to get worse. Lovely."
Friday's round? "It was good. I made two bad swings today on 11 and 17 and I got what I deserved," he said. "A lousy swing with a 3-wood into the par-4 11th, I tried to chip it and it just went sideways. On 17, I hit a bad tee shot. I obviously didn't make as many putts today.
"Hit the ball a million times better today and shot 4 shots higher. So go figure. I just wanted to give myself a chance today and I did."
And his tap-in birdie at 18? "It turned out good. It gets you closer to where you want to be."
Which is another chance to win his first major.
"You just don't get to do this," he said, shaking his head. "I still think back to our Open and I still don't even know what the hell happened. I haven't sat down and thought about it. I can't believe that was me, that I was the other guy. I really can't. It was the coolest moment. I'd like to have another one soon."
You sense he will.
He still can't go seven minutes without someone bringing up that playoff loss to Tiger. He understands that and goes with the flow.
"Very interesting, very fun," Rocco said. "A very satisfying day even though I lost. I don't know what else to say. Best day ever."
Then there's the inevitable follow-up -- what do you think about the first major without Tiger?
"It's still a major," he said. "It's still going to be the most exciting ever if you're in the hunt. But the difference is you don't have to look him in the eye. I'd rather have him here than not."
Open. Honest. He's got hairstylists and steelworkers and soccer moms who barely understand the game pulling for him in the U.S. And the fans here have embraced him, too. Like your average American, just can't get enough of him. On television. In front of the camera. In print. In person.
So, in closing, we thought we'd offer you a breakdown the highlights of Rocco following Round Two.
* On the weather: "Yesterday, we got a huge break yesterday. Even on the range it was nasty. Today it was just heavy wind. From a little different direction. The golf course is holding up good."
* On the Open fans: "I love it. The roars are different over here. They're deeper. I don't know how to explain it. maybe it's the wind, maybe it's the stands. But it's cool. It's really cool. They won't let you know if you've hit it bad. In the states, they'll give you a couple of claps. Over here, no. A funny thing happened on 7, the par-3. I hit a kind of a low one for me, a little chip low one. You could hear in them, 'Oooh. He hit a low one,' because I don't hit low ones. And they notice that."
* On his 73: "I had some good birdie putts early on two, three. Had a reasonable putt on one. You want to get those. You have to have something to play with out there because you know you're going to make bogeys out there."
* On the first two days: "What I told Matt (Achatz) my caddie, it's the two hardest days we've played in. Just the heavy wind. And I'm not hitting it 300 yards. So I'm hitting a lot of long clubs into all these greens and these greens don't like that sometimes. I have to be a little careful."
* On his belt buckles: "Don't need them over here. But the peace sign might come out Sunday."
* On 53-year-old Norman, the man he's chasing: "If he gets his mind into the game, obviously he's into a lot of other stuff, he's just fine. Obviously he's proving it. He's leading the tournament. I heard on the radio that they don't expect Norman to be in it on Saturday and I'm looking at them saying, they don't know who this guy is. If he gets a taste of it ... You don't win 70 or 80 golf tournaments in the world without knowing how to do this. Nothing guys like that do surprise me."
Nothing Rocco does surprises us either.
So what would he think of following up his U.S. Open playoff with a staredown with Norman?
"Absolutely. Why not?" Rocco said. "It would be absolutely outstanding. It would be great theater."
He paused and shook his head.
"But I've got some work to do."