Tiger's Last Stand: Woods' Writhing, Painful 2008 US Open Win on 1 Leg

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2018

Tiger Woods' win at the 2008 U.S. gave him a third career grand slam.
Tiger Woods' win at the 2008 U.S. gave him a third career grand slam.B/R

As the U.S. Open approaches this week, it marks 10 years since a nearly lame Tiger Woods agonized through 91 holes to claim what many consider his greatest major championship.

Even the Monday playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008 required an extra, sudden-death hole before Tiger could put away the boisterous and ever-smiling Rocco Mediate, who was trying to become the oldest U.S. Open champion.

It was Tiger's so-called one-legged major, played on two stress fractures and a torn ACL in his left knee. After Woods essentially willed himself to victory, it seemed like the moment when everyone had to concede that, yes, not only would Woods break Jack Nicklaus' record for majors, but he would crush it as well. Woods was invincible, and it was only a matter of time.

But then Woods' game spun out of control, like an inexplicable snap hook into waist-high rough. Neither he nor the game of golf has been the same since. All of which has cast those five days at Torrey Pines in a unique light and left the golfing world wondering whether anything like it will ever be seen again.

Here's how it went down.


No one knew how bad Woods' knee was

Throughout the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger would clutch at his severely injured left knee.
Throughout the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger would clutch at his severely injured left knee.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press/Associated Press

Woods had finished second at the Masters in 2008 but underwent his third knee surgery two days later. He purposely kept details about the two lower-leg stress fractures secret and didn't play any tournament golf between Augusta and the U.S. Open.

Trying desperately to rush himself back into shape, he spent the Sunday before the Open playing nine holes at the Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, California, while wearing a knee brace. The outcome was wretched: a score of 53 and eight lost balls.

There wasn't much he could do, but at least he realized it was time to chuck the knee brace.

Doctors had recommended Tiger skip the Open, but he was adamant about playing.

"I thought that maybe I could play the U.S. Open and then rest it and then play the British and then play the PGA and just skip all the other tournaments in between and just play the major championships," Woods said later, according to ESPN.com's Bob Harig. "But after what happened, I was going to keep re-breaking it as it healed because I needed to practice and play. So I was never given a chance to actually truly heal. So I had to shut it down."


The first hole tortured Woods throughout the tournament

There wasn't anything easy for Tiger. He played out of plenty of tough lies.
There wasn't anything easy for Tiger. He played out of plenty of tough lies.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

If anyone owned 7,603-yard Torrey Pines, it was Tiger. He had already won six pro tournaments there and had a sentimental love for the course, having been taken there as a youngster by his father.

But Woods got off to a rocky start with a double bogey on the first hole.

It wasn't a fluke. He'd double-bogey the hole on Saturday and Sunday as well.

His one-over first round of 72 included another double bogey on the 14th and left him four shots off the lead. More importantly, Tiger had spent much of the round doubling over in pain after some shots, and there were doubts he could endure four rounds.


Tiger went to work late in Round 2

Playing a nine-hole stretch in 30 shots was a key to Tiger's victory.
Playing a nine-hole stretch in 30 shots was a key to Tiger's victory.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Woods began the second round playing the back nine, and it wasn't good, as he bogeyed two of the first three holes to go to three over for the tourney. But then Tiger pulled it together as he finished with the front nine.

He made five birdies for a nine-hole score of 30 and a round of 68 that left him one shot off Stuart Appleby's lead. Woods' torrid 30 was one stroke off the U.S. Open record for a nine-hole score, set by Vijay Singh in 2003.

Also one off the lead was the man Tiger would have to stare down in the Monday playoff, Rocco Mediate.


Two eagles, six holes

Once again, Tiger followed up a sloppy start with an unerring finish in Round 3.

He double-bogeyed No. 1 and by the 12th hole trailed Mediate for the lead by three strokes. Then he had one of the best six-hole runs of a career that has seen more peaks than the Himalayas.

Woods came alive with a 60-foot putt for eagle on the 13th, a one-hop chip-in for birdie on 17 and then an unbelievable 40-foot putt that curled in for another eagle on 18.

His round of 70 gave him a one-stroke lead at three under, and only Lee Westwood at two under and Mediate at one under seemed to realistically remain in contention.

Given that Tiger held a 54-hole lead in a major for the 14th time and had closed the deal the other 13 times, the Open appeared to be his. However, his gait was painful just to watch, so who knew what would happen on Sunday.


An iconic putt on the 72nd hole

Woods quickly gave away the lead to Mediate in the fourth round with a double bogey and a bogey on the first two holes. He regained the lead with birdies on the ninth and 11th holes, but then two bogeys put him in a must-birdie situation on 18.

Mediate was already in the clubhouse at one under for the tournament, and it appeared the 45-year-old would get his first major when Tiger went awry on 18. His tee shot found a bunker, and it got worse when his approach landed in deep rough.

Woods recovered with a solid wedge, leaving himself with a 15-foot do-or-die putt to force an 18-hole playoff. Tony Finau was an 18-year-old amateur watching on television then and had no doubts about what would happen.

"I don't know if there was anybody anywhere who thought he was going to miss it," Finau told me last week while warming up for the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. "So when it went in I don't think it was a surprise to anyone. ... When Tiger makes that putt it's like it's destiny, and he's going to run away with this tomorrow. He's got 18 holes to play against Rocco on a course that really fits his style well, and he's won a lot more than Rocco has. I think most people didn't think Rocco had a chance. Honestly, what stood out to me there was how hard Rocco fought. Just how he was able to stick in there with arguably the greatest player of all time."

But it was NBC announcer Dan Hicks who uttered the perfect summation as Woods fist-pumped wildly when his putt dropped: "Did you expect anything different?"

Playing the fourth round with Woods was Westwood. He recently told English newspaper the Telegraph that even though he could tell Tiger was hurting badly, he had no idea how bad Woods' knee really was.

"Sometimes he grimaced, sometimes he didn't," Westwood said. "It was very on and off. We have always been quite pally and we talked all the way around and I kept asking him if he was all right. 'Not really,' was about as much as Tiger said. I thought he had pulled a muscle. I didn't think it was anywhere near as bad as we later found out it was."


The playoff made even the stock market grind to a halt

As tough as losing was, Rocco Mediate never quit smiling.
As tough as losing was, Rocco Mediate never quit smiling.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

The "Tiger Effect" has long been referenced as what Woods has done for television ratings, sponsorships and prize money. During the Monday playoff, it also had an impact on Wall Street.

With the playoff starting at noon Eastern time, office workers everywhere couldn't keep their focus from straying to NBC's broadcast.

Darren Rovell reported for CNBC that trading on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted between 12 and 4 p.m. ET from its normal average by a whopping 71.6 million shares, a trading decline of 9.2 percent.

By the 10th hole, a Mediate bogey left him three strokes back, but Woods bogeys at 11 and 12 cut his lead to one. Mediate found new life with birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th for a one-stroke lead, setting up another must-birdie scenario for Tiger on the 18th.

Mediate missed his birdie putt, and then Tiger forced sudden death when he made a three-foot birdie putt. For the 19th hole of the day, they teed off on No. 7.

That's where it unraveled for Rocco. His tee shot landed in a bunker, and then he hooked his second shot into the grandstands and got a free drop. He ended up missing a 15-foot putt and took a bogey. Tiger, meanwhile, was on the green in two and safely two-putted for par and his 14th career win in a major.

Mediate told reporters: "I never quit. Everyone expected me to get my ass handed to me, but I didn't. And I almost got it done."

Woods, in obvious pain and anxious to call it a day, told reporters: "All I can say is the atmosphere kept me going. I could never quit in front of these people—it was never going to happen. It was a great battle all day." He also called it "probably the greatest tournament I've ever had."


The unforeseeable aftermath

Since that 2008 U.S. Open, it's mostly been a tough road for Tiger.
Since that 2008 U.S. Open, it's mostly been a tough road for Tiger.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

If Woods could win a rugged U.S. Open on one leg, of course he could amass the five more majors he needed to pass Nicklaus. That was the universal wisdom a decade ago.

But that was also before news broke about Woods' sex scandal, his ensuing divorce, the four back surgeries that were coming his way and the arrest 13 months ago on suspicion of DUI when he was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car. (He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving.)

Tiger will commute to this week's U.S. Open from his yacht, per Mara Siegler of Page Six, so it's tough to feel terribly sorry for him. Since that last major victory in 2008, Woods has played in 25 majors but missed 14 with a variety of ailments and setbacks. He's been in the top 10 of nine of those majors but none since the 2013 British Open.

Maybe that changes this week. Or maybe the 2008 U.S. Open remains the last time we see Tiger truly being Tiger.


Tom Weir covered several majors as a columnist for USA Today.