Posts Tagged ‘Rocco Mediate’

 

The 2008 U.S. Open was a fantastic event to cover.

Hard to believe it is already the 10th anniversary of the best event I ever covered.

Eat your heart out, Super Bowls. Stand in the corner, World Series. And you, college sporting events, are definitely smalltime.

Sorry Michael Phelps and U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. Sad to say even the Rose Bowl doesn’t top the list.

Oh Maui Invitational, not even you. Despite spending 4 1/2 days in paradise.

The winner in a clear rout is the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

What a spectacular event. What a terrific week. What a career highlight.

And yeah, about 5,000 times less hassle than Super Bowl Week.

Torrey Pines South was immaculate, much sharper and brighter than the usually stellar condition it was in for regular PGA events. And with the famous cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean next to the course on a sun-splashed day, it was hard to get me to go back to the media workroom even when it was time for free food (oh yeah, more on the workroom later).

Ten years later, it is still summed up the same way it was then: What a memorable five days and 91 holes of golf.

Even more memorable now that it still remains the last major title won by Tiger Woods.

Hard to forget all the limping around the course he did and those occasional gasps and grabbing of his left knee after he hit a shot due to the pain in his leg.

Woods prevented Rocco Mediate from winning in 72 holes by knocking in the clutch birdie putt that lipped the hole before dropping in on 18. He fist-pumped so hard I was surprised his arm didn’t fly off and join me in the bleachers right above the hole.

Then Woods battled Mediate for 19 holes on the Monday playoff round and just when it appeared Mediate was going to earn the biggest achievement of his career, Woods sunk a birdie putt on 18 (hole 90) to force a sudden death playoff.

I had rushed to the seventh hole – site of the playoff – and was in good position for the ending. That being able to go inside the ropes thing when you are a media member is pretty handy.

Sometimes it is hard to spot the golf ball when it is struck from 300 yards in front of you but I could immediately tell Mediate’s second shot was a disaster. It landed in the grandstands on the side of the course and that pretty much sealed the deal. A short time later, Woods knocked in the winning putt and it was time to head to the interview area and then on to the workroom.

You knew it was a major deal in the moment — heck, it is the U.S. Open — but everything became even bigger when it was revealed a few days later that Woods was playing with a broken leg and that his knee injury was actually a torn ACL.

It sunk in immediately like, ‘Tiger won a major at Torrey Pines with a torn ACL and a broken leg.’

It is an ever bigger story here in 10-year anniversary week since it remains Woods’ last major title.

As per covering it, wow, it exceeded all my expectations. Yahoo Sports! made a deal with our newspaper and each day one of our stories were featured on the Yahoo website. Three of the five days, it was my story selected, and I’m not even a golf writer.

Pretty sure it came down to the topic and the quality of writing.

I found two of the articles just searching around but when I paste them here in a link, they are dead. A third one, about Phil Mickelson melting down on the 13th hole, is a dead link from the start.

Oh yeah, so while I was hustling all over Torrey Pines for five days getting great scene-setting material and live tidbits and seeing things from 20 feet away that others either saw on television or never saw, there were at least 50 reporters that never left the media workroom.

Nobody is expecting these guys and gals to walk all 18 holes for five straight days but spending the entire tournament in the workroom — in immaculate weather mind you, not frigid or humid conditions — at the FREAKING U.S. OPEN is a disservice to their viewers or readers.

So great, those guys saw exactly what the TV viewer did and got the same media pack quotes every other reporter did but your golf fanatic wants a deeper storyline and craves more than what he or she watched on TV.

I feel for those guys because they missed one great time out on the Torrey Pines course. A few of them could have shed some pounds with all that walking around. Ohhh, got it, being there to pile in more cholesterol-loaded bites in the stomach trumps being where the action is.

Can you imagine somebody covering the NBA Finals spending the entire game underneath the stands in a media workroom? Apparently, some of the golf reporters do that every single week.

No wonder most golf articles are among the most boring in all of sports.

Regardless, it was the best event I covered for a newspaper that no longer exists. I covered Super Bowls, World Series, Olympic trials, national team soccer, Maui Invitational, more than a dozen college bowl games, over 35 NCAA basketball tournament games, double-digit NFL playoff games, college football games at Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, etc., not to mention games in more than half of the NFL stadiums.  (Probably forgetting some things too).

But guess what? Covering the 2008 U.S. Open will forever be known as the best sporting event I ever covered.

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The name just didn’t ring a bell.

I covered the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines just two short years ago and studied the golfers closely – from the stars to the no-names you heard for the very first time.

And as a guy named Graeme McDowell moved into the lead of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday, I kept saying the same thing:

“I have no recollection of this guy.”

Turned out there was a good reason – McDowell didn’t qualify for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Two years later, the Northern Ireland native is one of the more unlikely winners of the U.S. Open and also the first European to win the event since Englishman Tony Jacklin in 1970.

McDowell shot a final-round 74 and was a one-shot winner over Gregory Havret of France. Didn’t recognize that name, either. Yeah, Havret also didn’t play at Torrey Pines.

What in the name of Rocco Mediate is going on here?

Regardless, McDowell deserves his new tag as winner of a golf major. He didn’t fold when big names like Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were lurking.

Those big names sure went the wrong direction. Els finished two shots back of McDowell while Mickelson and Woods both finished three strokes back.

Third-round leader Dustin Johnson had a worse day than the Big Three combined. Johnson collapsed under the pressure and shot a horrendous 11-over-par 82.

You have to go back to 1911 when Fred McCloud shot 83 to find a third-round leader who played so poorly on the final day.

McDowell had never previously won a PGA Tour event so you have to figure that’s quite a sore spot with Woods, who was hoping to change the focus from his messed-up personal life back to his golf game by winning the U.S. Open.

Instead, we have this question to ponder: “Tiger, does being outplayed by Graeme McDowell hurt the one-night stand talent pool?”

At Pebble Beach, Tiger didn’t put it “in the hole” quick enough except for Saturday when he shot a blistering 66. Woods never made his patented final-round charge, which tells us he needs more time to get both his golfing prowess and mental state back to its once-legendary place.

Instead, we all know the name Graeme McDowell. And if I ever cover another U.S. Open, I’ll scan the list of names to research and I’ll nod in appreciation when I run across his.

The next words out of my mouth will come freely – “2010 U.S. Open champ.”

The name will definitely ring a bell – a title-winning bell.

The annual PGA event at Torrey Pines Golf Course is usually a big deal nationally for one reason only — Tiger Woods plays in it.

Not this year, of course, after Tiger had a different 18-hole event (pun intended) to play in. Without Woods, the PGA Tour stop on the cliffs of Torrey Pines — the event’s name has changed from the Buick Invitational to the Farmers Insurance Open — is about as interesting as a Flintstones’ episode without Barney Rubble.

The first-round leader is someone named Scott Piercy, a second-year player so lacking in notoriety that I wasn’t even aware he attended San Diego State. Nice round and all — Piercy shot 8-under-par 64 on the easier North Course — but I’m sure more San Diegans would line up to watch former Ratt lead singer Stephen Pearcy shank golf balls all over the course before they would salivate over watching this Piercy dude play a round.

But with no Tiger, there’s no roar to this tournament. Woods is allegedly dealing with his demons — reports say he’s at a sex addiction clinic in Mississippi — instead of knocking down birdie putts or hitting impressive irons.

I’ll never forget covering his immaculate performance at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He staged an incredible 91-round war with Rocco Mediate despite having a fractured leg that would have sidelined a mere mortal. Legendary stuff with Woods prevailing while walking upwards of five miles a day on his injured leg.

I’ve covered three Super Bowls but that U.S. Open is right up there with any of the Super Bowls as the top event I’ve ever covered. Certainly beats helping out on the 1998 World Series coverage (seeing George Steinbrenner in the clubhouse was interesting), the 2004 U.S. Olympic swimming trials (sorry Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin) or any of the six exciting NCAA basketball tournaments (where is Saint Joseph’s Marvin O’Connor on a Friday?) that I’ve covered. 

Just an unbelieavble five days at Torrey Pines. But without Tiger prowling the course this week, Torrey Pines isn’t the least bit relevant.

Local boy Phil Mickelson is the favorite at any event now that Woods is away. While I’m sure Mickelson thrives on the competition of trying to match Tiger, it’s time for him to step up and start dominating while Woods is dealing with his issues.

Mickelson is the No. 2 golfer around but it seems like there’s a mighty huge difference between himself and Woods. Mickelson doesn’t always deal well with pressure — we don’t need to go through his meltdowns, do we? — and that’s why he’ll always be second fiddle to Woods.

But the tourney must go on and someone has to win it with Woods away. It will probably be some unknown golfer — had you ever heard of Nick Watney before he won last year’s event at Torrey Pines?

Unless there’s some really compelling element that prompts me to watch Sunday’s final round, I’ll be skipping the tournament. With no Tiger stalking the course, there’s just no reason to spend some weekend hours watching the event.

That’s how the golf world goes without its meal ticket. And I’m just not hungry for a helping of Woods-less PGA golf.

Tiger Woods and his conglomerate of PR flacks and other bobos (advisors doesn’t seem to fit) are more interested in delivering spin than revealing the truth about the golf icon’s weird car accident in the middle of the night last Friday. That alone tells you there’s a lot more to the story.

And that Woods is scared out of his mind that whatever it is will eventually leak out.

Regardless, his reputation is now buried in the sand trap and there’s nothing he can do but settle for a triple bogey. And now with at least one woman ready to come out of the woodwork and reveal details about a 31-month affair, those scratches on Woods’ face (did they come from the car crash or his wife?) are about to dig deeper under the surface.

The National Enquirer reported that Woods had an affair with a person named Rachel Uchitel — sorry, can’t refer to her as a woman when she looks more like Mick Jagger than a female — and TMZ reported that the car crash occurred after Woods’ wife (Elin Nordegren) got upset about the alleged affair.

So perhaps that truly is why Woods crashed into a fire hydrant and a neighbor’s tree in the early hours of Friday morning (good thing Woods isn’t a NASCAR driver if he  can’t do a better job leaving his own driveway). I’m guessing Woods wasn’t speeding away to stand in line for “Black Friday” merchandise and I’m also pretty sure he wasn’t late for a seasonal job at Best Buy.

Now there’s another woman, Jaimee Grubbs, going public about her affair with Woods, reportedly telling a magazine about having sex with Woods 20 times and having over 300 text messages from him. Sounds like Grubbs has stars in her eyes — and dollar signs — and is trying to cash in on the controversy.

Bet you right now she eventually poses in Playboy for some major coin.

As for Woods, I don’t understand why he wouldn’t talk to police about a minor accident like this. It tells you that he has something to hide about what happened regarding the crash or what occurred shortly before the accident. It is almost comical — not to mention very odd — that Woods’ wife allegedly smashed the car window with a golf club to help get Woods out of the car.

Something tells me she was chasing Woods with the golf club BEFORE the crash.

Anyway, Woods goes to great lengths to protect his privacy but perception often becomes reality. And the perception is that Woods is hiding something since he’s gone into hiding as opposed to being a stand-up guy and facing questions.

He’s about to find that network and entertainment reporters are going to press for answers a lot more aggressively than the golf writers who hang on his every word and throw softball questions at him from tourney to tourney.

I saw Woods in action live while covering the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. You may recall he won that tournament on the 91th hole — outdueling Rocco Mediate — while playing with major knee and lower-leg injuries. It was an incredible performance.

But I also saw that every press briefing he held was in a controlled environment. There were no one-on-one opportunities with Woods — as there were with nearly everyone else — and he seemed to want to get things over with as quickly as possible. He also would find an opportunity to make a jab or say something funny off a question, figuring the humorous comment would be the sound bite shown on television.

You know — because it’s all about the image. There are sponsors to appease and nothing matters more than keeping the Woods’ empire happy as the dollars flow in.

Well, Woods has some cleaning up of the image to do because right now, it’s buried in the rough. It looks like Tiger’s private life has been caught by the tail — or is it the tale?

Got to give a big shout out to Tom Watson for a fantastic performance at the British Open over the weekend.

The man turns 60 years old in September and had hip replacement surgery nine months ago and he almost became the oldest person to win one of golf’s major tournaments.

You ever heard of  a guy called Tiger Woods? Yeah, Tiger didn’t even make the cut at Turnberry while Watson was trying to make golf history.

The oldest player to ever win one of golf’s four majors was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship. Another famous victory was Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 triumph at the Masters when the “Golden Bear” was 46.

But here was Watson, pushing 60, needing to sink just one more putt to pull off one of the biggest accomplishments in sports history. I’m no golf fanatic but my news judgment knows no bias — a Watson win at Turnberry would have rivaled some of the biggest shockers in sports’ history.

As compelling as Woods’ 91-hole victory over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was — you may remember Woods played with a torn ACL and painful stress fracture in his right leg — a Watson win would have even dwarfed Woods’ memorable accomplishement. 

But Watson was unable to sink the 8-foot-putt on the final hole and that opened the door for Stewart Cink, who dominated the four-hole playoff to notch the biggest win of his career.

The sad thing for Cink is that when discussions about the 2009 British Open arise years from now, more people are going to be talking about Watson’s wonderful weekend than his own big victory. There will be many people asking, “Hey, who won that tourney?”

Judging from the classy way Cink acted during the awards’ ceremony, he’s fine with playing second fiddle to Watson during his own biggest moment. Here’s hoping Cink wins another major someday before his career ends.

The Idaho Statesman nailed the day’s amazing events with its Monday headline: Hook, line, Cinker.

Watson was sunk in the playoff but the five-time British Open champ, who was among the best golfers in the world from 1975-83, has no reason to feel ashamed. Sink the putt on 18 and the old guy prevailing over all the young turks would have prompted the headlines to rival the old 80s hit song by Huey Lewis and The News:

Hip to be Square.