"Expect anything different"

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The putt that immortalized Tiger
Posted on
June 14, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes


SAN DIEGO, CA. Expect anything different. Those three words stated by NBC Sports lead golf announcer Dan Hicks after Tiger Woods holed a 12-foot putt on the 72nd hole at the 2008 U.S. Open in securing a playoff spot against Rocco Mediate crystalized succinctly the essence of Woods and added the definitive exclamation point for a man whose insatiable desire to win was never more on display than his tour de force performance at Torrey Pines that week.

For a man who won golf tournaments in various locations around the globe Woods is quick to state that winning his 3rd U.S. Open title was his greatest victory among them all.

To appropriately chronicle and rank the amazing array of head scratching golf shots he executed at the most pressure packed golf events requires a yellow pages listing. The stature of Tiger has matched his name -- a relentless stalker -- always on the prowl -- observing others but ever focused on his ultimate goal -- total domination in his sport. Want overwhelming proof? Try 683 weeks ranked number one in the game -- a record that may never be broken.



Woods stated to people -- most notably his then caddie Steve Williams -- how important the event at the South Course at Torrey Pines would be when the United States Golf Association (USGA) made the announcement the Open would be coming to San Diego.

Tiger's familiarity with the course was well documented -- playing the layout as a youngster and eventually securing six Farmer's Insurance wins on the PGA Tour prior to the Open -- the last coming just several months prior to the event. Amazingly, Woods had won each Farmer's event stretching back to '05. If there was ever a proverbial "horse" for a given course -- it was Woods on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Looking back at the various elements in play during that championship resonates even more so today. Woods played high-stakes golf with a double stress fracture in his left tibia and a torn left ACL. At different intervals during the final round -- the grimacing and wincing became evident as Woods tried to fight off the pain and battle a relentless opponent in Rocco Mediate.

No one knew the stakes better than Woods. Going into the final round for the '08 championship it was Tiger again at the top of the leaderboard -- a position he was quite familiar with and one where through that time frame he had never lost a 54-hole lead in a major championship. Woods was ever resolute not to have that happen for the first time in his own backyard in San Diego.

The juxtaposition of Woods and Mediate was also fascinating. Woods was the undisputed force -- the persona was ingrained with a champion's quest to add another victory and do so at a venue where he grew up. The contrast with Rocco Mediate was striking. Woods the svelte golfer -- final round in red golf shirt and black pants -- the matador in the arena he commands with the colors he adopted like Superman in his preferred cape.


Mediate was the perfect contrast. The "David" to Tiger's "Goliath."  Looking at Rocco you had the impression of your everyday guy who sells car insurance. He was the kind of guy who might look at the U.S. Open trophy but never really envision taking it home with him. Mediate endeared himself through his self-effacing manner but had the audacity to wear matching red and black when confronting Woods in the Monday playoff. The message from Rocco was unmistakable -- he relished the golden opportunity to do what so few have ever done - take out Woods and take home the championship of American golf with it. To Rocco's credit he never folded like a cheap suit -- he counter-punched throughout the entire 91 holes of golf before ultimately succumbing.

Woods was ever aware that winning at the highest level is never an automatic occurrence -- no matter the competitor's lack of gravitas. In 2000, Tiger claimed the PGA Championship but pushed to the max by a golfer he had played against during junior days in Southern California -- Bob May. May was surviving at the professional level but his brief moment in the spotlight at Valhalla was striking for it was he -- not bigger name rivals Woods had consistently conquered -- that was going to toe-to-toe and not blinking. Like Mediate, May's attempt at securing the Wanamaker Trophy ended with Woods finally vanquishing him.



The '08 U.S. Open for Woods also marked a watershed. His carefully crafted image was about to implode in just over a year's time in a massive way. Coming into the event at Torrey Pines the public's image of Tiger was a devoted family man, blessed with a meaningful marriage and highlighted by an engaging smile witha range of corporations who were ever too eager to hook their credibility in the marketplace to his aura. 

Lee Trevino, the famed six-time major champion was once asked what could possibly stop the overwhelming success of Tiger Woods. Lee's response was direct - injury and a bad marriage. Woods would have to deal with both.

Looking back 13 years the totality and aura of that championship has only gained even more stature. Many golf purists winced at the thought of Torrey Pines -- a municipally-owned course in San Diego -- hosting a U.S. Open. The belief was imbedded that such a stage could never produce such riveting drama. In that regard -- they were totally wrong.



The return to Torrey Pines this week will be without the two primary combatants from '08 -- Woods recovering from a serious car crash early this year and Mediate no longer actively competing at the highest levels. In many ways - the absence of the two only strengthens the narrative from the '08 encounter. The '08 will forever rest on those memories and not be obfuscated. 

Woods was asked by NBC if he would appear during the telecast of this year's U.S. Open but smartly declined. Tiger's stature is from competing -- not just yet being seen as a "past voice" in lending insight from the '08 event. Woods also realizes it is the actual golfers competing who need to be the primary emphasis when any U.S. Open is contested.

The passage of time has added a good deal of perspective since Woods and Mediate faced off against one another. Tiger did return to competitive golf but would take just over 11 years before claiming his 15th major at the 2019 Masters. The reality of time and the accumulation of a myriad of injuries and surgeries could very well mean an upcoming announcement from Woods actually retiring from competitive golf.



The Tiger who left Torrey at 32 years of age following the '08 U.S. Open had won 14 majors -- claiming his first in 1997. That's an average of over one per year. Within that time frame Woods would win 7 of 11 majors played and most importantly, complete the Tiger slam -- possessing all four major championship titles at the same time. Passing the Nicklaus record of 18 majors seemed almost certain -- then.

Only the likes of Bobby Jones had won more of golf's key events at a faster clip -- 13 in seven years by age 28. Interestingly, what Tiger did at Torrey on the 72nd hole was matched by Jones. In the 1929 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Jones holed a 12-foot par putt securing a playoff against Al Espinosa and winning the next day in convincing fashion.

The USGA will likely use the same flagstick position on the 18th hole where Woods had his celebratory moment when holing that devilish putt. What happens with Torrey Pines hosting its 2nd U.S. Open this week will be hard pressed to match the circumstances from 13 years ago.

The '08 moment where Woods was tested to the max then rose to the occasion is enshrined in golf lore. The celebratory image of Tiger exulting left little doubt of the awe he commanded.

As Hicks so correctly noted -- expect anything different.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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