U.S. Open: Who Will Be This Year's Rocco Mediate?
As dramatic as Tiger's victory was last year at Torrey Pines in the U.S. Open, it was made that much better because he had a worthy adversary.
No, not a Phil Mickelson or a Vijay Singh, but a relatively forgotten Rocco Mediate playing the role of a thorn in the side of the already ailing Woods.
Mediate went from virtually unknown outside the golfing world to superstar in the course of 91 holes broadcast in prime-time.
He may have lost the battle, but he won legions of fans, and became forever immortalized in one of the greatest duels in U.S. Open history.
So who can take his place as the next Rocco Mediate?
We've learned that the best players in the world often struggle against the pressure and the aura of Tiger Woods. Those that have actually given Woods a run for his money are those who, quite literally, have nothing to lose.
They are driven by low expectations, and play with a spirit and tenacity that makes them nothing short of folk heroes. A proverbial Paul Bunyan of the links.
So, in order to determine who will be the next Rocco, we have to examine the criteria necessary to fall in this nearly mythic category.
First: this person cannot have a major title to their credit. A major puts you in a very special class in golf, even if most people never remembered that you won one.
Second: you have to have won a PGA tour event. While Mediate was not well known, he did at least have somewhat of a golfing pedigree.
Mediate has five PGA tour victories, and four other top ten finishes in the majors.
Third: with age comes experience.
Mediate's battle with Woods last year was not only epic for the pure theatre of it, it also would have been historic.
At 45 years old, Mediate would have become the oldest U.S. Open champion ever.
When you're playing the number one golfer on the planet, and staring down the red shirt of doom, you need to have past experiences to draw upon.
A Rocco Mediate figure has to have been around the block and faced pressure before.
Fourth: you need to be likable.
Rocco Mediate is such a goofy guy it's hard not to root for him.
In many ways he was the anti-Tiger. While Woods looks like a cyborg on the course, Mediate looks very human. He jokes, he moves around almost uncontrollably, and he has a big grin on his face.
Mediate was built to be a crowd-pleaser.
Keeping these things in mind, let's take a look at a few candidates to play the role of Rocco in this year's U.S. Open.
The 42-year old Mayfair enters the U.S. Open not playing particularly well, but he has many of the "Rocco factors" on his side.
Mayfair not only has the experience, he has had success.
He has five PGA tour victories to his credit (the same number as Mediate), and the last time the U.S. Open was played at Bethpage Black, Mayfair finished in a tie for fifth.
Mayfair is a tough and gritty player, something that bodes well for the U.S. Open.
However, since a tie for 10th in 2003, Mayfair's record in this major has been pretty poor.
Mayfair's best finish during that stretch has been a 66th finish in 2004.
Given his poor play as of late, I don't think Mayfair will be our "new Rocco", but there definitely are "horses for courses" sometimes in golf.
Corey Pavin returned to Shinnecock nine years after his surprise victory in 1995, and recorded his best major finish in five years.
If Mayfair can pick up some of the good vibrations, he certainly has a chance.
Ames may have had a pretty successful career, but he is far from a household name.
The 45-year-old has ten professional wins, three of them on the PGA Tour, including the coveted Players Championship.
If you win the "fifth major" you might as well win a real major.
Besides being the exact same age Mediate was this time last year, Ames has exactly the same amount of top ten finishes in majors as Rocco.
Two years ago Ames finished tenth in the U.S. Open, and could be on the cusp of his breakthrough victory.
Of course, Ames may be a little harder for the crowd to embrace than Mediate. He is not full of one-liners, but he certainly has courage.
After all, Ames is probably most famous for calling out Tiger Woods.
In 2006, Ames fought back against the idea that he had no chance against Woods in the first round of the Accenture Match Play.
"Anything can happen, especially when [Tiger's] hitting the ball," Ames said.
Ames did not just lose, he was steam-rolled 9 & 8.
For that reason, I do not like his chances to go head-to-head against Woods.
Being the ultimate competitor that he is, Woods does not forget anything. If he sees Ames on the leaderboard, he will kick it into an extra gear that no one can match.
So I guess our best candidate would be...
Funk is perhaps the most qualified candidate on the criteria given.
He has played in 19 U.S. Opens, and has as many top 10 finishes in majors as Mediate.
His best finish came in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills (which is in New York), where he finished sixth, playing with crowd favorite Phil Mickelson.
Funk is an incredibly likable guy. He is always courteous to the fans, and he is more than willing to make fun of himself.
In a classic skins game, Funk warned he would wear a skirt if Annika Sorenstam outdrove him.
She did, and, lo and behold, Funk was true to his word.
The humor was so rich it even forced Tiger to give one of his funniest lines ever when he read Funk's putt and told him.
"I think it's one...no, two balls out."
Funk has experience, he has the personality, and he also has the wins.
Eight wins to be exact, including four on the Champions tour.
Funk's biggest disadvantages, though, are his age and his driving distance.
Funk is 53 years old, seven years older than Nicklaus was with his famous charge in the Masters. Is it too late for the veteran to contend?
Also, Funk is a notoriously short driver, and Bethpage Black is not for short knockers.
Funk did not play the U.S. Open in 2002, the last time it was held here. However, considering that players a decade or two younger than him had trouble reaching the fairway on one of the holes, Funk may be playing out of his league.
Still, Funk is an incredibly straight driver, a necessity at the U.S. Open.
History also seems to be on his side, as Champions Tour players always seem to creep up on the leaderboard the first few days of the U.S. Open.
Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, and Hale Irwin are all Champions Tour players who played well the first two rounds before fading come the weekend during this decade.
Greg Norman nearly won the British Open last year.
Therefore, even if it may be a challenge, it is not impossible.
After all, how many people had Mediate in their office pool last year?
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