Commentary

A year later, it's time to reminisce

Originally Published: June 14, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Geoff Ogilvy had just signed his card and was walking toward a spectator pavilion on Torrey Pines' North Course when he caught it on a huge television.

Rocco Mediate, his playing partner that day, stayed inside the scoring area to watch on a small monitor.

Tom Lehman, who spends his summers in San Diego, was not exempt for the Open, and saw it unfold from just a few miles away.

And then there was Lee Westwood, who might have had the best seat in the house. He was playing with Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2008 U.S. Open, and stood on the back of the green, disappointed at his own failure moments prior, as Woods lined up the birdie putt he needed to tie Mediate and send the tournament to an 18-hole playoff.

The date was June 15, 2008, and it will long be remembered as one of the most exciting days in golf. In truth, the entire 108th U.S. Open had its memorable moments, including the Monday playoff won by Woods over the gritty Mediate, who forced Tiger to birdie the South Course's 18th to tie both in regulation and in the playoff.

Woods is preparing to defend his title this week at Bethpage Black on Long Island -- where he also won the Open in 2002 -- but he'll forever be asked about the week in Southern California when he hobbled to victory on two stress fractures in his tibia and a knee that just more than a week later would be surgically reconstructed.

Here is a look back at the 2008 U.S. Open.


Pre U.S. Open. So much happened at Torrey Pines, but the story really began three weeks prior. Woods was hoping to play the Memorial Tournament as prep for the Open after having arthroscopic knee surgery two days after the Masters.

Turns out, in rushing to get back, Woods suffered those stress fractures. But only a few knew.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImageTiger Woods was gritting his teeth all week, so much so that USGA President Jim Vernon, after walking with the world's No. 1 player during Round 1, didn't think Woods would be able to even tee it up for Round 2 at Torrey Pines.

In fact, Woods told the doctors who recommended that he skip the tournament that he was going to play. "And I'm going to win the U.S. Open."

But he knew the U.S. Open might be it for the year.

"I thought that maybe I could play the U.S. Open and then rest it and then play the British and then play the PGA and just skip all the other tournaments in between and just play the major championships," Woods said recently. "But after what happened, I was going to keep re-breaking it as it healed because I needed to practice and play. So I was never given a chance to actually truly heal. So I had to shut it down."

Woods' coach, Hank Haney, who was with him the day the doctor told him about the fractures, was concerned most about the lack of practice time heading into the Open. Woods was unable to hit more than few balls at a time and played just two nine-hole practice rounds walking. The first time he played 18 holes without a cart since the Masters was the first round of the Open.

"I always believe in Tiger and never think that anything is out of reach when he puts his mind to something," Haney said. "I knew that he was determined to win the U.S. Open. I didn't really see how it was logically possible that he would have a chance, but I kept thinking to myself that Tiger said he was going to win, so he must believe somehow he can pull it off."


Round 1. Paired with Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, Woods began the tournament ominously as he doubled-bogeyed the first hole. (He would make double-bogey at No. 1 three times during the tournament). He managed to get to 1 under par at the turn, but made a double-bogey at the 14th hole and finished at 72, 1 over par, and in a tie for 18th place, 4 shots back of surprise leaders Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelman.

But of more concern than his score was his left knee. Woods was obviously in pain, and sometimes bending over after hitting tee shots.

Jim Vernon, the president of the USGA, served as a rules official that day and walked with the Woods, Mickelson and Scott group.

"Watching Tiger on Thursday, I was first amazed that he finished the round," Vernon said. "Second, I was amazed he came back Friday to play. I couldn't believe how much pain he was in and how much he subjected his body to. That was special in itself. There was something remarkable about that.

"I was chatting with one of my friends afterward, saying that I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't make it out the next morning. Of course we were dealing with Tiger. But the pain was very apparent Thursday. It was awful. But again it's Tiger, and he has that extra something he can go to."

Said Lehman: "I went as a spectator. I wanted to take my son to see the Tiger, Phil and Adam Scott pairing. I thought that would be pretty neat for him to see. But the crowds were just so massive, I'm not sure how much he was able to see."


Round 2. The second round didn't begin much better for Woods. Starting on the 10th hole, he bogeyed two of the first three holes and was 3 over par for the tournament. After an eagle at the 13th, he made two more bogeys on the back nine to shoot 38.

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But then he got it going on the front side. On the par-4 first, the hole he double-bogeyed each of the other three rounds, he made a birdie after hitting his approach shot from a cart path. He went on to make four more birdies for a 30 and a round of 68, putting him in a tie for second, 1 stroke back of leader Stuart Appleby along with Mediate and Robert Karlsson.

Woods was still limping, but he was right there.

"The event started to get a little magical on Friday afternoon when Tiger did what he did on his back nine, which was the front nine," said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, who served as a rules official in Woods' group on Saturday, Sunday and during the Monday playoff. "He shot 30.

"I certainly knew it was borderline whether or not he should have been playing. He played a pretty mundane front nine and then all of a sudden went crazy on the back nine. That's when I recall last year's Open really starting to get exciting."


Round 3. This day was about as crazy as it gets. For the second time, Woods made a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 first hole. He added a bogey and a birdie on the front side to finish in 2-over-par 37. Another bogey at the 12th put him 3 over par for his round, 1 over for the tournament, leaving him 3 strokes back of Mediate.

But those last six holes ...

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Harry How/Getty ImagesDuring the magical closing holes of Round 3 of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, Tiger Woods chipped in from the rough for birdie on No. 17. The expression on Woods' face tells the story of how fortunate he was to make birdie on the hole.

"That was the freakiest round I've ever seen," said Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who was paired with Woods that day. Woods eagled the 13th, then bogeyed the 14th. With an awkward lie at the par-4 17th, he chipped in for a birdie. He then drained a 60-foot putt for an eagle at the 18th.

The scorecard said 33 on the back, 70 for the round, but as Karlsson experienced, it was much more than that.

"It was really, really amazing," said Karlsson, who rebounded from a front-nine 41 to shoot 35 on the back. "I think that will be one of my greatest memories when I look back. It'll certainly be up there. That back nine was unbelievable. Eagles on 13 and 18. Pitching in on 17. Just mayhem around us. It was just incredible to be part of."

For the 14th time in his career, Woods held or shared the 54-hole lead at a major championship. On all 13 previous occasions, he went on to win. This time, he took a 1-shot advantage over Lee Westwood into the final round, a 2-shot lead over Mediate and a 3-shot cushion over Ogilvy and D.J. Trahan.

All the while, Woods' leg was not getting any better.

"Watching Tiger, you see him walk and you knew something was wrong, something was not right," said Hunter Mahan, who tied for 18th.


Round 4. Woods again started his round with a double-bogey at the first and added a bogey at the second to drop 3 strokes in two holes. Mediate was in the lead. Birdies at the ninth and 11th put Woods back on top, but bogeys at the 13th (a par-5) and the 15th holes dropped Woods a shot back of Mediate, who parred 16, 17 and 18 to post 283, 1 under par. Woods parred the 16th and 17th holes and needed to birdie the 18th to force a tie with Mediate. His playing partner, Westwood, could also tie with a birdie.

But Woods, who had eagled the par-5 18th the day prior, hooked his tee shot into a fairway bunker. From there, he played a poor layup shot that left him obviously disgusted, the ball going too far and into the rough.

Woods now had to get up and down for a birdie to force a playoff.

He had 96 yards to the front of the green, 101 to the hole. His original thought was to hit a 56-degree sand wedge, but caddie Steve Williams talked him into hitting a 60-degree wedge. The thought was he'd have to swing harder, thereby producing more spin to get it to stop. And that's exactly what happened.

Ogilvy: "I didn't know he'd come out of the rough. It's ridiculous to make birdie from there."

Lehman: "When he laid it up in the rough, I thought the tournament was over. The different course setup probably benefited Tiger. Ten years ago, he could probably not have hit that shot. He didn't have a great lie, but hit a great shot to have a putt at it."

Woods purposely aimed right of the hole, just in case it came up short. His ball landed just beyond pin high and stopped, giving him a 15-footer for a birdie that would tie.

Westwood had also reached the green in three shots and had a downhill 20-footer that would put him in a playoff. He didn't hit it hard enough, and the ball trailed off at the hole.

"It was sickening to not be in that playoff," Westwood said recently.

Did he think Woods would make the putt?

"He always holes those putts, doesn't he? So yeah."

Ogilvy, who was tied for the lead with 10 holes to go, shot 39 on the back and tied for ninth.

"I played with Rocco, and I came off grumpy because I had a chance to win," Ogilvy said. "I was walking toward the big tent on the North [Course] and I saw Tiger hit the putt from there. I was really interested. I was obviously Rocco's biggest fan, I played with him, you root for him and especially when it's somebody like Rocco. He did everything he could.

"D.J. Trahan had a good tournament too and he stopped to watch, too. We were just standing there. 'Is he gonna, is he not. Is he gonna, is he not. Is he gonna, is he not.'"

Lehman: "I don't think there was a person on the planet who was watching who didn't think he was going to make it. I was thinking that Rocco should be getting his beauty rest because he'll be in a playoff."


The Putt. Woods faced a 15-footer that would break slightly to his left. The problem was the greens. The poa annua surface becomes quite bumpy late in the day, and given that this would be the last stroke of the tournament, Woods had some treacherous ground to cover.

"I kept telling myself make a pure stroke, if it bounces in or out, so be it, at least I can hold my head up high and hit a pure stroke," Woods said. "I hit it exactly where I wanted it to and it went in."

Mark Calcavecchia, who missed the cut and was watching from home: "I figured he was going to make it. Those greens suck at their best. And they weren't that good that week. Bounced, hobbled, wobbled all the way down there. Went in. Could have lipped out. Curled right in there. It's the legend of Tiger Woods."

Haney: "I was watching in the Buick tent and I just was thinking that Tiger would make the putt because he is Tiger and this is what he does. He makes big shots and big putts when they matter the most."

Ogilvy: "It's like Bay Hill this year. You expect it every time. It's never surprising. That one came the closest to be surprising. You're always really impressed, especially on those greens after 75 players played on them. They're bumpy. They had the low camera angle, too, which showed. One day he'll get something completely not his fault. He could hit that same putt 10 times and it might only go in twice. That's the amazing thing about it."

Mahan: "Those greens were so hard, bouncing around. Every putt was a tough putt. You could hit a perfect putt and been there 10 times and maybe none of them go in. But he hit it the perfect speed and it dropped in."

Westwood: "I was standing at the back of the green and wasn't even watching. But I obviously heard the roar when it went in."

Mediate: "I knew he was going to hit it. When Lee just left his short, I said to Rolf [NBC's Mark Rolfing], I said, 'I bet you this putt has speed.' That's what he does. He doesn't care about the outcome. He doesn't care about the next one."


The Playoff. For the third time in Woods' career, he was headed to a playoff in a major championship, this time over 18 holes. The leg wasn't getting any better, but Woods, of course, was not going to quit now.

Then there was Mediate, who was having the time of his life. His even-par 71 during the final round was 2 shots better than Woods and gave him the opportunity he relished, going toe-to-toe with the world's No. 1-ranked player.

The playoff began at 9 a.m. California time and while many of the U.S. Open playoffs in history have been anticlimactic, this was not. Woods finally parred the first hole to take a 1-shot lead but fell a stroke behind when he bogeyed while Mediate birdied the third hole. But with a par and two birdies at Nos. 5-7, Woods went ahead by 2 strokes, a Iead he held at the turn.

Then, when Mediate bogeyed the 10th, Woods had a 3-shot advantage and the playoff was seemingly over.

But Woods' bogeys at the 11th and 12th gave Mediate another chance, and he took advantage with birdies at the 14th and 15th holes to go up by 1 stroke. When Woods narrowly missed a birdie try at the 17th, he again was faced with having to birdie the 18th to tie.

Mediate could have closed Woods out with a birdie at the 18th, but was unable to get his putt to drop. Woods, who this time hit a perfect drive and reached the green in two, knocked his eagle putt about 3 feet past the hole, then made the birdie putt to tie Mediate at even-par 71.

Now it was on to sudden death, which would begin at the par-4 seventh hole, then go to the eighth and 18th holes if necessary.

"Before we started, Tiger had gone off to take a loo [bathroom] break," said Vernon, the USGA president who along with Davis was serving as a rules official for the playoff. "Fans were screaming and as we were waiting on the tee, on top of the stands, a bunch of fans were hanging over the edge. One of them yelled down to Rocco, 'C'mon Rocco, give it your all.' And he said, 'What the hell do you think I've been doing all day?' He was just exhausted, but he was a real competitor."

Woods hit the green in two to give himself a 20-footer for birdie. But the hole did not set up well for Mediate, whose drive came to rest in a fairway bunker. He then hooked his second shot into the grandstands, from where he got a free drop.

Mediate took what should have been a routine drop. But the ball landed in the drop circle then rolled out. He went to pick it up -- and there were both Vernon and Davis to stop him.

"The ball's in play as long as it hasn't gone more than two clubs lengths, and it can actually roll forward and still be in play," Davis said. "This happened in a split second, and Rocco leans over to pick up the ball because it had gone out of the drop zone. I screamed at him, 'Rocco, ball's in play.' If he had picked that ball up, it would have been a 1-stroke penalty, and it would have basically been over at that point. That would have been horrible."

Mediate wedged onto the green, but when he couldn't make his 15-footer for par, Woods' two putts were good enough for a long, hard victory that gave him his 14th major championship.

Nobody, save a few people in Woods' inner circle, knew how serious the situation was with his leg.

"I knew that something special was happening right when Tiger had decided that he was going to play on a broken leg with a torn ACL," Haney said. "As the tournament started to unfold I just kept believing more and more that he was going to pull it off."

Eight days later, Woods underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The fractures would heal on their own, but the knee surgery came with a minimum of six months without swinging a club.

Woods was done for the year, and golf suffered a huge blow. But the memories still linger.

"It was the golf experience of a lifetime, bar none," Mediate said. "It was five days of controlled, semi-controlled insanity, I guess you could say. Especially on Monday, it was crazy on Monday.

"I got to test everything I ever learned about golf in that one day. And it turned out almost great. But it turned out pretty good. It was some kind of, I don't know how to explain it, one of those dream scenarios that you want. ... To play against the best guy for the biggest tournament, and I got to do that. It was awesome. It was fun. And I want to do it again."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com