Solomon: Thrilling U.S. Open increases Tiger's legend

By: samjack


SAN DIEGO — For all the greatness Tiger Woods has shown over the years, this he was not supposed to be able to do.

Two months after undergoing knee surgery, Woods’ rehab had not reached the point where he could practice. Or bend over to read a putt. Or walk the length of a golf course.

Or even play a round of golf, let alone a competitive round of golf in the tense, challenging environment of a major championship.

On this gorgeous weekend, Tiger Woods was not supposed to be Tiger Woods.

Yet when the driving, pitching and putting were done — an extra 19 holes’ worth, mind you — Woods was the champion of the 108th U.S. Open.

After a birdie on the final hole of Monday’s 18-hole playoff at Torrey Pines, Woods put away Rocco Mediate on the first hole of sudden death to claim his third Open title and 14th major tournament championship, four shy of the record number held by Jack Nicklaus.

This victory, said Woods, is his greatest accomplishment in golf.

“I think this is probably the best ever,” Woods said. “All things considered, I don’t know how I ended up in this position.”

His doctors told him not to try. His body — via a shooting pain that hit his left knee at unannounced intervals during the grueling 91 holes over five days — told him to stop trying.

Woods simply ignored the advice, withstood the pain and overcame the field.

Mind over mammals.

“You know, you keep playing, whatever it is, you just keep going, keep going forward,” Woods said. “My buddies and I used to say, when we were working out, ‘How many more reps do you have? For.’ (As in) forever. And that’s the idea. You just keep going. There is no finish line; you just keep pushing, and I did all week.”

He limped. He grimaced. He doubled over.

He birdied. He eagled. He double-bogeyed.

He won.

The victory is Woods’ 65th on the PGA Tour, moving him past the legendary Ben Hogan into third place on the all-time list behind Sam Snead (82) and Nicklaus (73).

“He’s hard to beat,” Mediate said. “I threw everything — the kitchen sink, everything — right at him. He’s remarkable.”

The injury, which has required surgery before, might be evidence that Woods’ body is indeed made of the same imperfect material as the rest of us. But is that significant proof he is human?

Woods, 32, had surgery April 15 and was so limited in preparation coming into the Open that he had not hit more than 50 practice balls in a day, according to swing coach Hank Haney.

The first time Woods bent down to read a putt since the Masters was on the first hole Thursday.

But when there was a discussion about him skipping the tournament, Woods told Haney there was no way he would not play at Torrey Pines, the place his father brought him to play his first 18-hole round of golf at 10.

“He said, ‘I’m winning the U.S. Open,’ ” Haney said.

With a straight face, Haney said he figured Woods’ biggest issue in dealing with the injury would be walking.

Little wonder Woods double-bogeyed his first hole on the South Course. Worse, he would suffer an embarrassing double on that par 4 twice more during the tournament, almost losing the Open on the first hole.

Ah, but it is the finish that tells if a golfer is made of Woods or Rocco.

The USGA hoped the gallery would see some magic on the 573-yard, par-5 18th hole. It was rewarded as Woods delivered goose bumps with classic Tiger flair.

He eagled No. 18 on Saturday to take a 54-hole lead, significant because in 13 times with a lead or a share of it entering the final round, he was unbeaten.

Trailing by one, he rolled in a 12-foot putt to birdie the hole Sunday so he could play more golf on his ailing knee Monday.

Trailing by one, he rolled in a 4-foot putt to birdie the hole Monday so he could play still one more hole.

On the next hole, he won the tournament.

He just didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to.

“I wasn’t going to bag it,” Woods said.

“It’s not my nature. I don’t know how to do that.”

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