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Saturday, June 14, 2008

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Mediate: I Want To Be There

Mediate Reacts
Rocco Mediate got as low as four under until he lost three strokes on the final six holes. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

By Phillip Howley

San Diego – Sure, Rocco Mediate is trying to win a U.S. Open. Yes, it would be the highlight of his career, a remarkable achievement at the age of 45.

But Mediate doesn’t just play golf, he’s a fan of the game. That being the case, he couldn’t help but appreciate the fireworks show Tiger Woods produced on Saturday at Torrey Pines.

“Completely out of his mind,” Mediate said of Woods, who had two eagles in a six-hole span on his way to a 1-under 70 and the championship lead. “The stuff he does is unreal.”

The day began especially promising for Mediate. He hit the ground running, playing the front nine at one under par and adding a birdie at No. 10 to get to four under for the Open. At that point, the three-time PGA Tour winner had a three-shot lead.

“It was an amazing day, one of the best days I’ve ever had on a golf course like this,” Mediate said. “Obviously, I would have loved to finish four or five under, but so would everybody else. Play is hard.”

Mediate found the last few holes especially difficult. He made bogey at No. 13 – a hole Woods on which made eagle – double-bogeyed 15 and bogeyed 16. But he got one back with a birdie at No. 17 and Mediate never lost his composure or his perspective. “You’ve got to keep doing what you’ve been doing,” he said. “I hit the ball really, really good. I missed a couple of shots, but I really liked the way I reacted.”

He will be in the second-to-last group on Sunday, playing with Geoff Ogilvy, hoping to make up two strokes that separate him from the leader, Woods. Lee Westwood, two under, will be one stroke behind and in the last pairing.

Woods has never lost a major he has led in some capacity after 54 holes. But Mediate is not intimidated to see the 13-time major championship winner in the way. His only regret is that he won’t be playing alongside Woods.

“It’s the greatest to be part of the era that Tiger is in, and the dream for me would have been to be in the last group,” Mediate said. “That’s what I want to do. Before I came here this week, that’s what I told everybody, that’s what I want to do. I don’t care if I win or lose, I want to be there.

“Because he’s the best that’s ever played. You want a chance to go up against him. Sure, he’s probably going to win, but he might not. You just don’t know that.

“He wants to kill you. Of course, we all want to win, but if he doesn’t win, it’s one of the most sportsman things you could ever see.”

England’s Westwood will have two obstacles to deal with on Sunday. One will be Woods and his astounding record when he has the lead. The other will be history, which has not seen a European win the U.S. Open since Britain’s Tony Jacklin did so in 1970.

The easy-going Westwood, a veteran of elite international competition, might just be the perfect spoil to Woods’ party.

“It’s not any concern who I’m playing with the last round,” said Westwood, who, like Mediate, has never won a major. “I’ve been in those positions before. I’ve been in five Ryder Cups and I’ve been in contention in majors before. So, if you let it get to you, then you have problems.

“I’m a fairly calm person and fairly level headed, so I’ll just stick to my game plan and try to keep doing the things I’m doing.”

The 35-year-old Westwood has been steady throughout, carding rounds of 70-71-70. He has hit 60 percent of the fairways (25 of 42) and 63 percent of the greens (34 of 54). His best finish at the U.S. Open is a tie for 5th in 2000 at Pebble Beach, but he feels comfortable at Torrey Pines.

“I’m playing very well,” he said. “I’m seeing the right shots at the right time and I feel in control of my golf swing. I’ve got it up and down, which is just what you need to do at U.S. Opens.

“If you’re playing with Tiger Woods on Sunday at a major championship, you have to be pretty pleased with what you’re doing and where you are.”

Only one thing might be better – that would be finishing ahead of Tiger Woods on Sunday at a major.

Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.


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