'The Day Golf Brought The Sports
World To A Standstill'December 10, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Six months removed from arguably the greatest playoff in U.S. Open
history, the accolades from that glorious Monday in San Diego
continue rolling in like a 3-foot putt.
magazine named the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which featured a
riveting 19-hole playoff (18 holes wasn't enough to decide the
final outcome), as
the sporting event of the year
, trumping the New York Giants' improbable Super Bowl win over the
undefeated New England Patriots and Kansas' overtime thriller over
Memphis for the NCAA Division I men's basketball title.
And this month,
magazine selected the U.S. Open playoff as its newsmaker of the
According to the editors, it was a no-brainer.
|Rocco Mediate, left, congratulates Tiger
Woods after their epic 19-hole playoff for the 2008 U.S. Open
at Torrey Pines. (USGA Museum)|
You had the world's No. 1 golfer and 13-time major champion
Tiger Woods battling not only a challenging Torrey Pines South
Course layout, but his own physical adversity. His
fellow-competitor was a loveable, middle-aged underdog from western
Pennsylvania with a name right out of HBO's television series
"The Sopranos." Rocco Mediate had only five PGA Tour
victories to his credit and never been this close to claiming the
U.S. Open, or any other major championship.
Woods wincing and grimacing over every shot, the result of a
torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that would require
season-ending knee surgery days after the championship, and the
gritty Mediate who never backed down for a single moment, going
mano y mano
for 19 holes of high drama on the picturesque Southern California
A gorgeous setting and even better golf.
"When it came time for the editors at
to select the No. 1 newsmaker of the year in golf for 2008, the
choice was unanimous," said Geoff Russell, the weekly
magazine's editor. "It was the day golf brought the sports
world to a standstill."
More than 20,000 spectators flocked to the course to witness the
playoff in person. Even more might have showed if the USGA decided
to sell tickets - only those who had purchased season tickets were
allowed access. For those unfortunate souls without a grounds pass,
the Internet and television offered coverage of the entire playoff.
A record 2.3 million individuals watched live video streaming on
, and ESPN, which televised the first nine holes, and NBC, which
handled the last nine holes (plus one) recorded major ratings
spikes. NBC's 7.6 rating represented a 90-percent increase over the
TV audience for the 2001 U.S. Open Monday playoff between Retief
Goosen and Mark Brooks at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla.
Then again, any golf event with Woods in the mix moves the
needle in an upwardly fashion.
But it was Mediate's inspired effort that created a rock-concert
atmosphere on the grounds and kept people glued to their TVs and
computer screens. Most expected Woods to run away with the playoff
after he holed a clutch 12-foot birdie at the 72nd hole on Sunday
to force an extra day of golf. And history has shown that the
18-hole playoff - the U.S. Open remains the only golf event to
still utilize this format -can, at times, be anticlimatic.
Senior Writer John Hawkins recounted
in his review of the No. 1 Newsmaker of the Year
The Wounded Warrior vs. the Everyman, someone for everyone to
like, with Tiger's injuries remaining the great unknown in
more ways than one. Woods always showed older players a little
more respect, and at 45, Mediate certainly qualified, but he was
also chatty and antsy, and this wasn't exactly Tiger's
idea of a social environment. On the road to immortality and
Mount Nicklaus, he had covered a lot of ground with his head down
and his mouth shut.
A fellow veteran fondly referred to Mediate as the
shortest-hitting good player on the tour, meaning the dude with
the five-o'clock shadow couldn't hit it out of his
shadow. Woods, meanwhile, could seemingly do anything but grow a
decent beard. This wasn't Ali-Frazier or the Nadal-Federer
dream duel that would occur at Wimbledon three weeks later, but
then, Tiger's toughest wins were in battles against guys with
nothing to lose.
"A classic David vs. Goliath scenario, except in our
game, Goliath is the smart one with the slingshot," says the
ever-quotable Paul Goydos. "I watched most of it, didn't
really root for anyone, but the compelling story was Rocco trying
to stop the steamroller. Just a cool deal, great for
Even with Woods hobbled by his injured knee, most expected him
to run away with the playoff. He did build an early lead, but
Mediate found the Midas touch on the greens, recording three
consecutive birdies on the second nine, including a downhill
16-footer at 15 that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Just like on
Sunday, Woods found himself down a stroke heading to the par-5 18th
Unlike on Sunday, Woods was able to reach the green in two
shots, while Mediate needed three. Woods' eagle attempt came up
just short, but the tap-in birdie and Mediate's failed birdie try
moved the playoff into sudden death. Instead of going to the first
hole, a par 4 that Woods doubled-bogeyed three of the four
regulation rounds, sudden death began at the dogleg-right seventh.
USGA officials, led by Senior Director of Rules and Competitions
Mike Davis and Jim Hyler, the Chairman of the Championship
Committee, decided to begin at No. 7 for logistical reasons. It was
easier for spectators to go from 18 to seven and for broadcast
partner NBC to get its production people in place. The rotation
would be holes seven, eight, nine and 18 and then back to seven if
Mediate hit a poor drive and failed to reach the green in two.
His long par attempt just missed and the playoff ended with Woods
registering a pedestrian two-putt par.
Nevertheless, the playoff had been a huge success for all
involved. Even critics of the 18-hole playoff had little to argue
|A hot putter had Rocco Mediate on the verge
of a stunning upset of Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open at
Torrey Pines. (USGA Museum)|
Woods, who registered his ninth USGA championship title to tie
Bob Jones for the most overall, called this particular major
triumph his best ever, ranking it ahead of record-setting victories
at the 1997 Masters and the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
"Having done this for 20 years, I can say that it was my
favorite broadcasting day," NBC on-course analyst Mark Rolfing
said in Hawkins' report. "I've done a lot of good ones,
but that day was special. The playoff had everything. It was unlike
anything I've ever experienced."
"Not just the event of the year," echoed golf-course
architect Rees Jones in
, "but probably the event of the decade."
"Or of all time, at least as national championships
go," opined Hawkins, who summed up the newsmaker of the year
"If a lasting impact on the memory has any say in
determining the best U.S. Opens ever played, the 108th version will
only become more epic in time. It is human nature to glorify the
past, although Woods' 91-hole triumph over Mediate does not
require the cushion of retrospection to stand atop the list.
'It was one of those instances where you wonder if you're
really seeing something historic or you're just getting caught
up in the moment,' [USGA Executive Director David] Fay said. In
this case, they are one and the same."
To read the complete "No. 1: The Woods-Mediate Playoff in
Golf World's Nov. 28, 2008, issue,click here
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him
with questions or comments at