Numbers favor Woods, but Mediate has puncher's chance
SAN DIEGO -- Let the comparisons flow fast and loose, from every possible angle, in every walk of life.
Club pro Jack Fleck triumphed over legendary Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open. Joe Namath's Jets knocked off the Colts in Super Bowl III. Buster Douglas took down Mike Tyson. Rocky beat Apollo (eventually). Truman beat Dewey (despite initial reports). Even David was able to slingshot his way past Goliath.
Rocco Mediate can add his name to that distinguished list of underdog champions if he defeats Tiger Woods in Monday's 18-hole playoff at the 108th U.S. Open Championship. How big of an upset would it be? Huge, considering his opponent is a sleek, muscular, golfing machine (albeit with a painful left knee), ranked No. 1 in the world, with 13 career major championship titles to his name. For his part, Mediate is a 45-year-old peashooter with a creaky back and no victories since 2002.
That doesn't mean another spoiler can't reign at Torrey Pines. Let's break down the match in all categories:
Driving distance: Always nice to start out with an easy one. For the week, Woods is averaging 321 yards per drive; Mediate is hitting it 38 yards shorter. If Tiger is ever hitting first on a par-4 or par-5, it's only because he hit it so far from the fairway that it stopped going. Which leads us to the next category...
Driving accuracy: It only seems like Rocco has found the short stuff off every single tee. Really, his driving accuracy of 64 percent (36-of-56) is only slightly better than Tiger's 54 percent, but his misses aren't nearly as wayward as those of Woods, who has outclubbed his overflowing gallery at times.
Greens in regulation: It's a dead heat so far. Both players have hit 64 percent of greens in regulation this week, which is often the greatest determining factor at the U.S. Open. "It's all about fairways and greens in this joint," Mediate said. "And that's what he's going to try to do and that's what I'm going to try to do. And that's who's going to win the battle tomorrow, you can believe that. That's what we have to do." Mediate has the strategy down pat, but Woods is the PGA Tour's perennial GIR leader. That counts for something.
Putting: This is getting eerie; another stalemate in this statistic, as each player has averaged 28.75 putts per round throughout the opening 72 holes. Then again, if you had to pick one man on the planet to make a putt when it mattered, wouldn't that man be Woods? On Sunday, he proved that theory once again, clinching his spot in the playoff with a 12-footer that found the bottom of the cup.
Injuries: Everybody pack your Advil. Mediate has long had a recurring back injury that has limited his playing career dating back to the 1994 season. This week, though, he has remained healthy throughout, staying loose and warm in the sunny San Diego climes. Woods, meanwhile, has spent the past two days wincing, even doubled over in pain due to the left knee injury which required arthroscopic surgery eight weeks ago. His physical ailment is much more pronounced than Rocco's right now.
Experience: Yes, Mediate is 13 years older than his opponent. And sure, he's been playing the PGA Tour for a decade longer. But no current player owns more experience in high-pressure major championship situations than Woods, who has won two of his 13 career major titles in playoffs, beating Bob May at the 2000 PGA Championship and Chris DiMarco at the 2005 Masters. Mediate has played in two sudden-death playoffs in his career, which spans 534 tournaments.
Intangibles: With only one top-10 in 16 previous starts this season, Mediate has been having an absolute blast just getting into contention this week. Don't expect that attitude to change in the playoff. "I really wanted to get in that final -- why wouldn't I want to play with him?" Mediate said. "If we get in a fight, yeah, I have a problem. He's for sure going to kick my butt." Another problem? Woods also owns an advantage on the mental side of the game. Nothing against Mediate, but the game's top-ranked player is also its most mentally tough shot-maker.
Prediction: It won't be a runaway. It won't be over by the time they make the turn. Woods isn't shooting 64; Mediate isn't shooting 84. This one could come down to the very bitter end, but unlike the greatest underdogs in history, Rocco falls just short. Tiger Woods will be the next U.S. Open champion.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.
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