I was unavoidably away from the television on Monday and have just finished watching the playoff round of the 2008 US Open. It undoubtedly was the best US Open I have ever watched and may possibly be the best since Francis Oiumet beat Vardon and Ray.
Obviously suffering from knee pain, Tiger ground it out and in the end managed to survive—not win the US Open. Truly epic stuff.
I do not, however, think that it was anywhere near Tiger’s best performance (and we will never know how much of that was the knee). Indeed, Tiger needed some miraculous shots to get into the lead on Saturday. If he misses either of Saturday’s improbable Eagle putts, or if the ball doesn’t roll up the flagpole and drop straight down, he doesn’t have a 54 hole lead, and he doesn’t win.
Tiger is a wonder at the recovery and the impossible putt. But if you need to pull off miracle eagles and birdies to win, it’s also fair to say that you should not have been in those spots in the first place.
Woods also made some serious mental mistakes. On the thirteenth on Sunday, he inexplicably went for the green on the second, having already watched Lee Westwood hit it left into the ice plants. All Tiger needed to do there was lay up, hit it onto the green and get a par or birdie. If he does that, he wins outright on Sunday. Instead, he does the macho thing and plants his ball right next to Westwood’s.
I also question the way he stuck with the driver at times when it was clear it wasn’t working for him. Especially on the final Sunday, the course was set up to be short enough that he didn’t’ have to bomb it.
Of course, Tiger won, so it’s all moot.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine anyone having a better week than Rocco Mediate. A short hitter on an impossibly long course, he was consistency itself. All he did was hit fairways and greens, make solid chips, and good putts. He didn’t pull off any miracle shots, but he didn’t need to. His was the classic recipe for winning a US Open: consistency, consistency and consistency.
Naysayers argue that Rocco Mediate was in a position to win only because Tiger was not at his best. I reject that line of thinking. There were 156 players in the field. If Tiger’s “weakness” created an opening, then other top ranked players should have been able to take advantage. But in the end, it was Mediate who was there, not Mickelson, Scott, Ogilvy, Els, Garcia, Rose, Stricker, Singh or Furyk.
How was it that the 158th ranked player in the world—who had to go through qualifiers to get into the field—managed to play Woods to a stand still?
It’s simple. He played nearly flawless golf for five straight days.
Even better: unlike others in the past, Rocco refused to self-destruct under Tiger’s gaze. And you could tell that it was frustrating the Striped One. If there were thought balloons on tv, Tiger’s would have said “what do I have to do to make this guy go away?”
A marvel of Rocco’s consistency was that he seems to play only one shot shape. There was none of that high, low, medium, left to right, right to left, fade, knockdown, stinger, carving stuff for Rocco. Tiger famously can hit nine different types of shots with every club. Rocco hits just one, but he hits it with deadly consistency.
That’s what I want out of golf. One shot that I can repeat.
It’s apparently enough to almost win the US Open.