The United States can rest easy. For a few hours Friday, it appeared the best chance at regaining possession of our national championship in golf might lie solely on the shoulders of someone named Rocco.
Problem. A quick Web search tells us the more famous Roccos are that chef from New York who had a lousy reality television show and an adult film star turned adult film producer, which I assume means a higher salary with less pressure to perform.
It’s not as if Rocco Mediate is some hack golfer. Hardly. He has earned close to $14 million during a 22-year PGA career. He has four tour victories and is one of the more friendly and amusing sorts on the fairways. He even has proven to be a contender in the U.S. Open, having finished fourth in 2001 and in a tie for sixth in ’05.
But this is serious stuff. An American hasn’t won the Open since Jim Furyk in 2003, the longest such drought since 1910, back when Mark Twain and Tolstoy were taking their final breaths. The last four players to hoist the gleaming silver trophy were from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
If the U.S. is to exist among U.S. Open winners again, it’s probably going to take a magnificent effort by a superlative player to end the streak, which is exactly the type of stuff an American dialed up during his final nine holes.
The light went on for Tiger Woods. He found his driver, his putter, his rhythm. He served notice as only his gallery roars can.
You got that feeling late Friday. The one that says it’s over. Finished. Decided. The one that assumes because Woods made five birdies over those nine holes and trails leader Stuart Appleby by only a shot, the world’s best player is destined to win his 14th major championship Sunday.
He was 3 over for the tournament when approaching the first tee after beginning his day on the back nine at Torrey Pines. He was limping on his surgically repaired left knee and offered a card that included an eagle and four bogeys. He was grinding like a butcher around the South Course, his only thought to somehow discover enough good shots to be at even par and within clear view of the leaderboard when signing his scorecard.
When he finally did as dusk ascended, his score was 2 under and tied with Mediate and Robert Karlsson of Sweden.
“I’ve been in — whether you call it a zone or not — before, and it feels nice,” Woods said. “I just happened to make some putts. That’s all.”
Here’s why it’s not near completely over: Woods putted over that final stretch as remarkable as you will see on Open greens, tremendous even for him. Anyone would be pressed to continue such consistency over the weekend.
His knee is sore, and he still has at least 36 holes to play. Of the last 16 golfers who will tee off today, 11 are foreigners, and it’s proven of late what magic they seem to create over the final few rounds of this tournament, or do we need to remind you of the names Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy, Michael Campbell and Retief Goosen?
Davis Love III owns a major championship and is among a group of four that sits two shots back. The North Carolina native definitely could win here and end the streak. D.J. Trahan was born in Georgia, also stands at 1 under and has two tour wins in three years. But this is just his second Open, and he missed the cut in 2006 when shooting 16 over. He has as much chance of winning this week as Rocco the chef.
Rocco the player owns a better one, but how much remains unknown. He competes his best under the worst conditions, which means he might not implode during today’s final pairing with Appleby.
“Is that true?” Mediate asked when informed of America’s recent Open stumbles. “Wow, I didn’t even know that. Is that true? I don’t know what I would do (if he won), but it would be great to have a shot at it.”
I’m guessing he won’t. If life was fair and Mediate didn’t have this problem with injuries (he has suffered far too many of them), Rocco being the face of the tour and a consistent winner would make the game a lot more entertaining. He is good for a few laughs and some streaky play of terrific golf.
But this is serious stuff. Rocco Mediate as the U.S. Open champion would be an amazing story, and still we should breathe a tad easier today for one specific reason: Tiger Woods’ game is awake.
Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or email@example.com.