I don't care if you hate golf. I don't care if you hate sports. Once in your life, you have to watch Tiger Woods play the final round of a major when he has a lead.
Myself, I'm not really into golf. I love playing mini golf probably more than I should, but otherwise, it does not interest me. I once tried playing a par three course, with atrocious results. But if Tiger is in contention during the final round of a major, it's appointment viewing for me.
This time around, it was more special than usual. An underdog to end all underdogs, 45-year-old Rocco Mediate, matched Tiger shot-for-shot on Sunday while playing one hole ahead of Tiger, and outplayed him on Monday. Tiger needed birdies on the 18th hole to send the tournament into an 18-hole playoff and a sudden-death playoff hole, and of course, he sank both of them like there was never any doubt. Rocco, a good friend of Tiger's and one of the most likable athletes I've ever seen, was game for the playoff, and approached his extra round on Monday morning with the perfect attitude. He had nothing to lose, and he had the chance to test his game against the best player on the planet.
Throughout the five rounds, Tiger did not play extraordinary golf, which we have seen he is capable of doing. But three incredible shots on Saturday--two eagles and a miraculous birdie--showed everyone the kind of player he is. The birdie on the 18th on Sunday and Monday, and his approach to the sudden-death playoff hole, showed that there is no one who can beat him under pressure.
The amazing thing is, the word "collapse" may have come into the conversation had Tiger not won this US Open. Through 10 holes, Tiger held a three-shot lead over Rocco. But Rocco played mistake-free through the next eight holes, notching birdies at 13, 14 and 15, and took a one-shot lead to the 18th. The three-shot lead evaporated faster than a Laker lead in these NBA Finals. But Tiger being Tiger, he did what he had to do to continue play.
This is one of Tiger's greatest victories for a number of reasons. His performance on Saturday, based solely on those three impossible shots, will live forever in Tiger lore as one of his greatest rounds. His recent knee surgery warranted many grimaces, a slight limp on occasion, and an element of adversity we haven't seen him play with before. It would have been all too perfect for him to have won on Father's Day, his first as a father himself, and someone who admired and learned so much from his own father. And so, he was forced to be clutch for 19 more holes, maybe 19 more than he wanted, but 19 more to add to his legend.
I have never seen an athlete like Tiger. He fascinates me. More than anything else this weekend, I will remember his reaction after his chip-in birdie on 17th. He bowed his head, smirked, then took off his hat and started giggling uncontrollably. I started giggling at Tiger giggling. Under other circumstances, Tiger might have gone with the typical double-fist pump or uber-rambunctious high-five with Stevie Williams. But no...this time, he was in awe of himself. There are plenty of times where we laugh, because he's so good it's funny. This time, he laughed at his own greatness. Amazing.
He is the most clutch athlete I have ever seen. I've gotten in the argument over who was more dominant in his sport, Woods or Federer, and I always said Federer. But there is no argument as to who is more clutch. He has never lost when he takes a third-round lead into the final round of a major (14-0). He can never be counted out. Ever. His focus is incomparable. His work ethic and drive (literally and figuratively) are unparalleled. His attitude is truly unique. His own father told him he would never find another person as mentally tough as he was. Truer words have never been said, Mr. Woods.
If I could have one hour with one athlete, it'd probably be him. As much as I have my own sports heroes--Brady, Ortiz, Pierce, the list goes on--there is no athlete that I admire more than Tiger Woods. I'd like to think I would just pick his brain like a psychologist, asking him what was going through his mind on this hole or that one, what was college like, what he learned from his dad. In reality, I'd probably just babble on about nothing at all.
We should all feel privileged to have lived in the time of one of the greatest ever. I know I do.