Tiger Woods prevailed in the U.S. Open Golf Championship Monday, beating fellow American Rocco Mediate in a nail-biting playoff at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
For the 32-year-old Woods, the win marked his 14th professional major, leaving him just four behind the record held by Jack Nicklaus, and was his third U.S. Open title.
Both Woods and Mediate finished regulation Sunday tied at 1-under par for the tournament. They were the only players of the 156 who started the event last Thursday to end under par.
When the U.S. Open completes four rounds with a tie at the top, an 18-hole playoff is used, but this time, even that wasn't enough to settle the matter. Like Sunday, Mediate led Woods by one on the 18th tee. And as was the case just a day ago, Woods birdied the hole, while Mediate took a par.
That meant sudden death, and on the 19th hole of the day, Mediate's drive sailed left into a fairway bunker. His approach was short and left of the green. Woods, though, found the putting surface with his second shot. Two putts later, it was over, and Woods was in a familiar place -- the winner's circle.
The victory for Woods, who is always expected to contend for the trophy in any major, was among the most impressive of his 12-year pro career. Just after the Masters in April, the world's No. 1 player underwent surgery on his left knee that kept him out of competition for two months. Heading into the U.S. Open, he had only played a handful of holes, none against his fellow professionals.
Throughout the tournament, the Southern California native was bothered by knee pain, particularly on drives. However, he was a factor from the beginning, ending the first day just four shots off the lead.
After rocky but overall impressive showings Friday and Saturday, Woods began the final round at 3-under par, leading by one stroke over England's Lee Westwood, with whom he played in the last group. But both men struggled at times, ultimately firing 2-over par rounds of 73. That left Westwood even for the 108th playing of the Open, and Woods tied with Mediate at 1-under.
In order to force the playoff, Woods, with the type of drama only he can provide, needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to match Mediate, who played in the next-to-last group and went into the clubhouse with the lead at 1-under. He got it with a 12-footer that bounced along the green before rolling into the cup in front of thousands of near-hysterical fans.
Mediate arrived at the U.S. Open ranked 158th in the world, but he'll certainly move up following his best showing in a major. The 45-year-old Pennsylvania native, who had to play in a qualifier just get in last week, has five career victories on the PGA Tour. Woods collected his 65th Tour win.
For a time, it appeared Mediate was going to pull off what would have been easily one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game. Had he won, his effort would have probably been the most unlikely since Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open.
The next of golf's four majors will take place in July, when the Open Championship is contested at Royal Birkdale in England.