Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tiger and Rocco, in Four Parts

If Shakespeare lived, instead of recording the military exploits of medieval kings and noble Romans for posterity, he would dramatize the story of Tiger and Rocco for generations to come.

Just the names call forth the Muses. Tiger and Rocco. Rocco and Tiger. Those names aren't golfers' names. They sound like the combatants in a UFC title bout or a mixed-martial-arts exhibition. Somehow, a playoff between Lee (Westwood) and Geoff (Ogilvy), which came close to happening, wouldn't have had the same euphony.

Fittingly, the contest between Tiger and Rocco became a brawl. It had a visceral feeling of man on man, golf ball against golf ball, as if one could stymie the other. The atmosphere matched that of one of Sampras and Agassi's famous duels, or the Thrilla in Manila. The raucous patrons grasped the space-time singularity that made the 108th U.S. Open the greatest of them all.

Tiger the Gimp

Woods played the Masters in pain, couldn't hole a putt, yet finished second when the entire field, save champion Trevor Immelman, crumbled under the brutal Sunday conditions at Augusta. He then had knee surgery. The recovery took longer than most expected. He missed the Memorial, Jack's tournament, when he hoped to return. He hadn't played a competitive round in over two months.

Woods double-bogeyed his first hole on Thursday. Playing in pain, he managed 1-under for the first two rounds. On Saturday it got worse. Coming out of a bunker, he hoisted himself up with two golf clubs, like a pair of crutches. The winces and grimaces grew more pronounced. Lesser golfers would have withdrawn.

Rocco's Modern Life

Rocco Mediate grew up in the steel-driving towns of West Pennsylvania, the area best known as the cradle of quarterbacks: Unitas, Namath, Montana, Marino. Arnold Palmer was his hero, and the national championship, the U.S. Open, was his tournament. An affable, fast-talking, nearly hyperactive, thoroughly frank man, he wore his heart on his clothing - literally. He festooned his hat with pins from previous U.S. Opens. On Sunday, he sported a giant peace symbol for his belt buckle.

And his shot! Renowed swing gurus shook their heads. He hit every full shot with a pronounced right-to-left draw. He couldn't fade the ball to save his life. Yet the big hook was big-time under crushing pressure for the whole tournament.

No comments: