Mediate, Woods share history, fate

Ron Borges
Boston Herald

Series: Senior PGA

Published: Friday, June 12, 2015 | 12:05 p.m.

BELMONT, Mass. -- Moments define professional athletes.

They are, most often, moments of triumph. They are the moments when the odds are long or the battle pitched or the weight of carrying your team back-breaking, yet, like mighty Atlas, the athlete shoulders the burden and finds a way to win.

Rocco Mediate's moment was different.

No matter what happens this week at the Senior Players Championship or any other week on a golf course, Mediate will always be defined by his 19-hole playoff loss to Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open. The way things are going lately, Woods may face the same fate.

Woods beat Mediate that day in the first sudden death hole after the two remained deadlocked following five days of golfing warfare, including an amazing 18-hole playoff that preceded that sudden death moment.

Mediate was the every man from Greensburg, Pa., a guy who'd made a good living for decades on tour in the long shadow of one-named guys like Tiger, Phil and Jack, winning six times but often battling back pain that at one point threatened to end his career prematurely.

Yet the day he lost at Torrey Pines was his biggest victory, pyrrhic though it seemed at the time. For in the nobleness of that struggle, he stepped out of the shadows and the larger world realized here was not only an exceptional golfer but, more importantly, an exceptional fellow.

"I still get questions all the time, which is fine," the affable and unflappable Mediate said yesterday, after an opening round 4-under 67 left him tied for second at the Senior Players, 2 shots behind defending champion Bernhard Langer.

"It was a hell of a thing. But every time I've watched that replay, I still lose! You would think one time, maybe, one time . . . but it always works out that way.

"I don't mind it at all. Man, it was fun. Like to do that every weekend. Well, maybe three weeks a month, get one week off because you'd go crazy. But it was cool."

Woods, the world would soon learn, defeated him that day on one leg, playing with what turned out to be a double stress fracture of his left tibia as well as a torn ACL. What no one could have realized at that moment of Woods' 14th major championship was that he would stall right there, becalmed in a sea of confusion, self-doubt and, Mediate feels, the simplest of things: A misplaced club face.

"It's real simple," Mediate said when asked what has caused Woods' long drought, which will officially reach seven years and endlessly counting without another major championship next week. "His golf club is in the wrong place. It's physics. He's not hitting the ball where he's looking."

Like many in and around the golf world, Mediate is both shocked and dismayed by the apparent collapse of Woods' game, which reached its nadir last week when he shot a third round 85 at the Memorial, on a course where he'd won five times previously. He finished dead last and played alone early Sunday morning, a solitary figure struggling to rediscover a game that has seemingly abandoned him.

"I'm one of his biggest fans," Mediate said. "Golf needs him more than you could imagine. It's so sad.

"If you'd told me at Torrey Pines he wouldn't have 20 majors by now, I'd have been shocked! With his club speed and his physicality, if he can get it back in the right place, he'll start winning again.

"He's in a bad place with his golf swing, but if he gets it under control I wouldn't be surprised. People say he's finished, but I don't. I played him many times in the early 2000s and he was really ridiculous! He was a magician! He was an unstoppable train back in the day.

"He won so many times hitting it all over the golf course, like we all do, but with the ball going crooked (now), nobody can save those shots."

Mediate admitted "If he keeps going like this . . ." the thought trailing off not in need of a sad follow-up, but quickly added what he hears from Woods, despite his problems, gives him cause to believe the man he nearly faced down in 2008 lurks somewhere not far below that face of confusion the world now looks at in amazement.

"There's still a spark in there," Mediate said of Woods. "Right now the club won't let it happen, but I can't wait until it does. Imagine if he starts winning again? 'Hi! I'm back!' "

After a roaring start in which he birdied three of the first four holes yesterday at Belmont Country Club, so was Mediate. His 67 left him tied with old friend Lee Janzen and Guy Boros -- son of the 1963 U.S. Open winner at The Country Club, Julius Boros -- and feeling happy both with his game and life.

"Everything's great," he said after a round in which he thanked several spectators for coming out to watch. "I have a new baby (Francesca Rose, born May 8), and my main focus is her right now. It's a lot of fun. I really can't complain about much."

That includes his golf game and his new wardrobe, the latter a product of a diet and fitness program that's peeled 40 pounds away since last November and left the 52-year-old Mediate stylish on the course and swinging free.

"Just designed to feel better and not be fat," Mediate said of his dietary alterations. "I can actually wear some pants that are made of cloth now, instead of the ones that stretch! Everything's good."

Yesterday, his golf swing certainly was. One day soon, he hopes to say the same of Tiger Woods.

This article was written by Ron Borges from Boston Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.