As impressive as Tiger Woods was in winning the 2008 US Open golf Tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California, June 12-16, the legend of his courageous performance is looking to grow even greater over time. As golf fans look back twenty to thirty years from now at the career of the golfer, widely considered the best ever, many will point to his one-legged victory, his 14th major golf championship, as his most compelling moment.
For many years, sports fans have debated whether golfers are athletes, or simply highly skilled players of a recreational game. Tiger Woods has always been recognized as one of the most physically imposing golfers to play the game, but his dramatic, come-from-behind playoff victory over Rocco Mediate proves that golfers truly are athletes.
Just two weeks prior to the start of the US Open, Woods had been told by his doctor that he needed to be on crutches and preparing for surgery on his knee, which was hindered by a torn ACL and two fractures. Woods had different plans. Torrey Pines is one of Woods’ favorite golf courses, and the US Open has always been one of his favorite golf tournaments. He did not want to miss the event.
Woods made little to no mention of his knee during the tournament, which had prevented him from playing in a PGA tour event until the US Open. Woods, hobbled by his bum knee, and in theory, rusty from a lack of major competition, should not have been in a position to win the Open against the best of the rest in the world golf ranks. Of course, there is a reason Woods is often mentioned in the same vein as Michael Jordan, in terms of the most competitive and fearless “athletes” of our time. He has proven to have an adept ability to perform at a level no one in his sport has ever achieved.
Aside from the physical challenges he overcame, what makes Woods’ victory in the Open even more impressive is that he pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat multiple times on Saturday and Sunday of the tournament. Woods made two eagles and used a strong surge in the third round to take a one stroke lead into the final round. Woods had never lost a major even when leading after 54-holes. Despite this remarkable record, fans and analysts who watched the great champion hobble around for three days, using his club as a crutch at times, knew this might be his time to show his mortality.
Mediate took over the lead in the tournament during the back nine in Sunday’s final round. Woods closed strongly, and made an incredible put from about 25 feet to tie as Mediate watched on television. He was not surprised to see Woods make the shot. The tie led to the 18-hole playoff on Monday afternoon.
When Mediate took a two-stroke lead with three holes left in the playoff round, the odds were definitely against Woods. However, there was always a sense that Woods was capable of pulling out the victory. Mediate fought ferociously and did not bend to the pressure of the late-tournament competition that had hindered so many of Woods’ previous Sunday rivals. He played fairly well until the final hole when his tee shot went awry. Mediate was forced to make a conservative play opening the door for Woods to make a miraculous 18th hole put, just as he had done the day before.
For the first time all day during Monday’s playoff round, the momentum was clearly in Woods’ favor. There was certainly a sense that he was in charge heading into the sudden death hole at number seven. Woods bested Mediate by one stroke on the playoff hole to take what he later described as his most enjoyable tour victory ever. It was only after the tournament was over that sports fans became aware of just how much pain and injury Woods had played with throughout the tournament. His legend, already well cemented, will likely grow profoundly over time as pictures and video of him hobbling his way to victory become common place.