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The Ayatollah of Rocco Rolla

U.S. Open runner-up Mediate tees off in today’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational

July 31, 2008
By B.J. LISKO

Rocco Mediate is living in the limelight. He's rocking out to it, too.

"I pretty much listen to Rush all the time," Mediate said.

The 45-year-old PGA Tour veteran is in Akron this week after earning a spot in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. The way he earned it has propelled him to rock star status.

Article Photos

Salem News page design by B.J. Lisko

Mediate has always been a favorite with golf fans, but never quite to this extent. His epic head-to-head battle with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open has catapulted him into stardom well beyond the realm of golf.

His performance at the U.S. Open and strong follow-up play at Royal Birkdale got Mediate an invite to the Skins Game and has him on the verge of a Ryder Cup spot.

He's enjoying every minute of it.

Fact Box

Salem News Sports Editor B.J. Lisko picks the top 5 finishers in this week's Bridgestone Invitational.

1. Padraig Harrington - Harrington ruled at Royal Birkdale. There's no reason to think he can't do the same in Akron, where conditions will obviously be much, much better. Harrington has the accuracy and the touch to conquer Firestone.

2. Miguel Angel Jiminez - Jiminez is going to get it done in the states eventually. He started the British Open rather well before a disastrous second round sent him home for the weekend. With that blip out of his system, it's time for the cigar-smoking Spaniard to step up.

3. Sean O'Hair - O'Hair had a solid 3rd place finish in last week's Canadian Open. He's a streaky player so I look for a good showing in Akron.

4. Kenny Perry - Perry might be golf's hottest player right now. Does it mean he'll get it done at Firestone? Maybe. He's probably the safest bet to finish in the top 10 of just about anyone in the field.

5. Rocco Mediate - Sure, Firestone might not exactly set up the best for Rocco, but what course nowadays really does for a 45-year-old that hits less than 300 off the tee? (Sorry, Rocco). If he stays accurate off the tee and his putter is hot, and they have been, look out.

Wild Cards: Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Boo Weekly, Woody Austin,

Stuart Appleby.

"It's all good," Mediate said. "I don't feel like I have to be better. I just want to be the same."

After keeping the world's No. 1 on the ropes for 91 holes, Mediate doesn't have to change. He may not have won, but he appears to be hitting full stride after years of back problems nearly saw him make the switch from tour player to tour commentator.

"I think I played my best golf," Mediate said of the U.S. Open. "I just think that I never quit. When I got three down, to quote the latest Rocky movie, I got to really see what I had left in the basement."

It didn't take long for Mediate to find out.

"Of course I didn't want to be three down at any point," he said. "It pretty much just made me angry. All I said (to myself) at that point was 'Do not miss another shot the rest of the day and you can beat this guy.' For the rest of the day I didn't miss the club face. All of the sudden after 15, I'm ahead. But I wasn't surprised. I wasn't like 'Oh my God, I'm leading the Open.'"

He eventually fell by a shot on the 91st hole. But even though Mediate didn't come away the winner, you couldn't put a price on what he took away from the experience.

"I loved the moment," he said. "I didn't get caught up in it, I enjoyed it. I got to test everything I've worked on my entire life under intense situations, and I liked what I saw. I really didn't think I was going to lose."

Even though he lost, he won big with fans, golf critics and sportswriters alike. And Mediate isn't one to lose perspective on things, even if he was in the title bout of arguably the greatest golf tournament in the history of the sport.

"The bottom line is what people forget is that it's a game," Mediate said. "You're paid money for playing a game. In this case, I wasn't playing for money. I was playing for that big ass trophy I didn't get to take home. That means more than anything else, period. Being in that situation was what I've always dreamed of. I want it again now. Will it be possible? I have no idea. It's not whether you win or lose, it's if you can put your best out there and see if it's good enough."

At the U.S. Open it nearly was. And it has been on five other occasions when Mediate took home PGA Tour victories. Mediate is currently 46th on the PGA Money List having earned $1,318,325 this season. He's made over $13 million on tour in his career.

But it's not the money. More importantly and flattering to Mediate has been the outpouring of support.

Champions Tour veteran Greg Norman said that what Mediate did against Tiger was the "best thing to happen to golf." The Tonight Show with Jay Leno had Mediate as a guest a day after his runner-up finish captivated the nation, and the stories are everywhere to back that claim up.

"The fact that they say anything, it's very cool," Mediate said about the support from other players. "I didn't expect it. It was just neat that your peers were actually watching. I've heard some unbelievable stories. A lot of them were like 'My mother hates golf, and she watched the whole thing. Tiger is the best player, and we just love the fact that you guys went at each other all day.'"

With the added notoriety, comes added demands. The biggest adjustment in Mediate's life?

"Time management," he said. "I have a hard time saying no."

Even with the extra attention, Mediate's golf game hasn't suffered a bit. He was the first round co-leader at the British Open and eventually earned a top-20 finish - something he hopes to build on in Akron.

"I've never shot low here," he said. "Hopefully I can change that this week. The course speaks for itself. It's a great driving course, a great second shot course and the greens are difficult. The rough is pretty down, but it's thick. I've got to keep my tee shots in the fairway."

Firestone is also one of the most difficult fields of any tournament, sans one player.

"We're only missing one guy," Mediate said. "I would rather have Tiger in every field I play in because he's the best."

But for this week, Tiger won't be there to hog all of the gallery. Instead, it will be Mediate in the limelight, the universal dream - just like the Rush song.

"The people are great," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

Mediate tees off at 9:14 a.m. in today's Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at bjlisko@salemnews.net

 
 
 

 

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