Rocco basking in PGA limelight
Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008 3:03 pm
By: By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
GRAND BLANC, Mich. (AP) — Rocco Mediate was told a story about how a father and his 3-year-old daughter were riveted to the U.S. Open, walking from “Dora the Explorer” to watch the 72nd hole when Tiger Woods made a putt to force a playoff.
“I think that’s so cool,” Mediate said.
Before playing in the first round of the Buick Open today, Mediate took a look back at his memorable matchup with Woods that attracted millions of viewers from coast to coast.
“The amazing thing is how many people said, ‘My mother or my father who never watches golf couldn’t take his eyes off the television,’” he said. “Obviously wasn’t because of me, it was because of Tiger. But it was because of the match it turned into.
“I heard hundreds of stories like that.”
As the PGA Tour embarks on life without Tiger for the rest of 2008, its commissioner and players are hoping new stories will be told about those who take advantage of opportunities without the world’s No. 1 golfer around to physically and mentally dominate.
Even though Woods was recovering Wednesday from season-ending knee surgery, his likeness was everywhere to promote the Buick Open and his legacy was a topic of discussion at Warwick Hills.
His image is plastered on three sides of Buicks in the parking lot, on pairings sheets and billboards in the Detroit and Flint areas.
Buick Open officials expected Woods to be in the field for the ninth time since 1997.
But Woods announced last week he would be out until 2009 after competing with a double-stress fracture and a torn knee ligament over 91 holes to win the U.S. Open in a playoff over Mediate.
“If it was anybody else that I would have lost to, I would have been devastated right now,” Mediate said.
Instead, Mediate has soaked up the attention generated by playing a part in a sporting event that will always be remembered.
“I’ve actually had a lot of fun with it,” he said. “I’ve always been with the people and talked to people, so I just talk to more people.”
Across the room at a packed news conference, a Florida Southern College roommate beamed.
“No one has ever won so much by losing,” said Steve Puertas, who hosts Mediate at his home in suburban Detroit during the Buick Open. “And it couldn’t happened to a better guy.”
Mediate also can take solace in the fact that he didn’t blow the U.S. Open, but rather came up just short of stopping Woods from claiming his 14th major.
“This guy does things that are just not normal by any stretch of the imagination,” Mediate said.
Kenny Perry agreed.
“He beat everybody on one leg,” Perry said.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem also marvels at Woods’ talent and mental toughness.
Finchem, bristles, though at the notion that his absence renders tournaments to being irrelevant.
“It’s just ludicrous,” Finchem said after taking part in a ceremony honoring the Buick Open’s 50th anniversary. “He played 17 events last year and we have 47.”
Finchem acknowledged TV ratings dip without Woods because casual viewers tune out and that likely will be the case this week.
Jim Furyk (No. 12), Justin Leonard (No. 23) and Perry (No. 27) are the only players among the top 30 in the world at the Buick Open and the lackluster field includes nine of the top 50 in the world ranking.
If Woods was playing, few would focus on those facts.
But because Woods makes the Buick Open a regular stop, his presence or lack of it has an obvious impact on the gallery and buzz 45 miles north of Detroit.
“I think it will have less impact on tournaments where he didn’t play in the past or the British Open or the PGA,” Furyk said. “It’s a definite hit for Warwick Hills and the Buick Open.”
“It will be difficult but there’s still going to be a lot of good golf. We’ve had a lot of exciting tournaments that he has not teed it up in this year, so hopefully that will continue.”
Woods has had a sponsorship agreement with Buick since 1999 and agreed to a new contract in 2004 believed to be worth more than $40 million over five years. Buick has said the deal does not require Woods to play in specific PGA Tour events it sponsors.