Tiger's greatest performance

2008 U.S. Open: Tiger Woods beats Rocco Mediate in playoff

Originally Published: December 14, 2009
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Tiger WoodsAP Photo/Charlie Riedel

The limp became more pronounced as each round progressed, the painful winces more acute with each tee shot. Tiger Woods somehow was contending at the 2008 U.S. Open despite a lengthy layoff, little practice and a left knee that was killing him.

Throw in the gorgeous cliff views of the Pacific Ocean from the Torrey Pines South Course in San Diego -- a place where Woods had dominated in PGA Tour events for years -- and a perfect foil in golf's everyman, Rocco Mediate, and the storyline of the game's best player going for his 14th major championship could not have been much better.

Yet it was.

"When this story is told, it will go down as his greatest victory," said Hank Haney, Woods' instructor, on the day Tiger defeated Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win his third U.S. Open.

That story was told a few days later, when Woods announced he was shutting it down for the year to have reconstructive surgery on that troublesome left knee.

But it turned out the knee was the least of his concerns in the tournament; what seriously hampered the world's No. 1 player was a double stress fracture to his left tibia that had been discovered just a few weeks earlier.

In Woods' zeal to return from arthroscopic knee surgery after the Masters, he suffered the stress fractures -- but told no one outside his inner circle.

Haney said the extent of Woods' preparation for the U.S. Open was hitting four or five practice balls at a time before heading back to a golf cart.

"He was going to hope for a miracle until the last possible point that he couldn't make it," Haney said. "In my mind, that was the most likely scenario; he just would try until the end and then come to the realization that he couldn't go."

Woods made it clear that "I wasn't going to bag it," but did that mean he had to contend?

He was tied for 19th after an opening 72, moved into a tie for second after a second-round 68, led after a third-round 70 -- which included two back-nine eagles -- then needed an incredible birdie on the 72nd hole just to tie Mediate, who would have won if Woods had missed.

Then it was on to an 18-hole playoff that still didn't settle the deal. Woods had to rally again on the final hole with a birdie to tie, then won the championship on the next hole with a par.

"This was the greatest performance he's ever had," Haney said. "I didn't know he could play 18 holes, let alone 91."
--Bob Harig