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Friday, 19 March 2010

Tiger Woods won his third US Open Championship title and 14th Major in total after finally getting the better of Rocco Mediate after an epic 91 hole contest.

Victory took Woods to within four Majors of Jack Nicklaus’ record tally of 18 but this was arguably his most impressive coming so soon after knee surgery. Prior to this extraordinary week at Torrey Pines, Woods had not even walked 18 holes since the Masters but that was not to stop him striding to an incredible victory in the 108th US Open.

Mediate played his part with distinction, standing toe-to-toe with the World Number One and refusing to buckle. After the 18 hole play-off over the South Course, there was still nothing to separate them and, with both players shooting 71, the contest moved into sudden-death.

Finally Woods was able to shake-off the dogged 45 year old with a par four on the 91st hole after Mediate found trouble on his way to a bogey five.

“It was unbelievable for the whole week,” said Woods. “The atmosphere was incredible. Today it kept ebbing and flowing and 90 holes was not enough and we had to go one more.”

As for his left knee which had him grimacing in pain throughout the week, Woods simply said: “I’m glad it’s over. I don’t feel like playing any more. The atmosphere kept me going – I could never quit in front of these people.”

Many expected Woods to cruise to victory in front of his home Californian crowd but Mediate came agonisingly close to winning the title. And Woods was full of praise for his opponent. “It was an unbelievably gutsy performance. He put so much pressure on me all week. It was a great battle.”

Indeed it was, but there could only be one winner and inevitably it was Woods.

“I was hanging in there,” said Mediate. “He is so hard to beat. He is unreal. I would have loved to have won but it was a great day. They wanted a show and they got one. I had a chance to beat the best player in the world and came up just one short.”

Woods looked to have one hand on the trophy when he moved three clear after ten holes, but Mediate fought back magnificently to first draw level and then edge ahead coming down the stretch. In the end, the World Number One rose to the challenge and birdied the last to keep the play-off alive past the 90 holes.

The day started with Woods gaining the early advantage as he offset two birdies with two bogeys to reach the turn in level par 35 while Mediate mixed three bogeys with a lone birdie in bright morning sunshine.

Woods, US Open Champion in 2000 and 2002, seized the early advantage when Mediate bogeyed the par four first after hitting his approach into the front greenside bunker and missing a five foot to save par.

Mediate hit back at the par three third, coming within a whisker of a hole-in-one with a magnificent six-iron that ended up just 18 inches from the hole.

He tapped in for birdie while Woods bogeyed after getting a plugged lie in the front bunker off the tee and failing to get up and down for par.

Trailing by a shot, Woods got back to level when Mediate bogeyed the par four fifth after driving into a fairway bunker and then edged one ahead with his first birdie of the day at the sixth where his approach ended up six feet from the flag.

Woods pulled two clear with a birdie on the seventh but dropped a shot on the next. The pendulum swung in Woods’ favour on the par five ninth however when he holed a crucial par putt only for Mediate to three putt for bogey to drop two behind at the turn.

When Mediate dropped another shot at the tenth the title looked to be inexorably heading towards Woods, by now three clear, but the contest was merely warming up.

With Woods dropping shots at the 11th and 12th, Mediate took heart, reeling off three successive birdies from the 13th to turn the play-off on its head. A curling 20 foot putt for a magical three on the 15th completed the hat-trick of birdies and for the first time, Mediate hit the front.

Momentum was with Mediate as the battle reached its gripping climax. Woods’ birdie putt on the 16th pulled up half a roll short and Mediate’s slender advantage remained intact. The 17th was halved in par and it all came down to the 18th.

Mediate pulled his drive into the fairway bunker, forcing  a lay-up while Woods his two towering shots to the middle of the green. His eagle putt from 40 feet ran three feet past, leaving Mediate with a 15 footer to win the US Open. But his putt for a place in history slipped by and with Woods converting his birdie for a level par 71, there was still nothing to separate them and the contest moved into its 91st hole and its gripping conclusion.

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