Four rounds and 72 holes weren’t enough to determine the winner of the U.S. Open. In most tournaments that would mean that they played an extra hole or two and ended up with a winner. Not at the Open. Their playoff is at least 18 more holes, and more beyond that if needed. On paper the final is a total mismatch. On one hand you have the greatest golfer ever born, Tiger Woods (I make that pronouncement confidently and without qualification). On the other hand you have a 45 year old guy in Rocco Mediate who hasn’t won a tournament since the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic in 2002. Tiger has won 13 Majors. Mediate has four top tens, and before this year had never finished better than fourth. In the last eight Majors, Tiger has three wins and three seconds. Over the same stretch, Mediate has only played in two – a withdraw and a cut. Woods is ridiculously more qualified. It isn’t even close.
Given all of that, it isn’t at all surprising that Tiger is an overwhelming favorite (-382 at Pinnacle). I wouldn’t give that a thought if it weren’t for the fact that Tiger is clearly not at 100 percent with hs knee. If he was then he would have eaten the rest of the field for lunch when he went into the final round with a lead. Instead he struggled and needed a miracle putt to force this playoff. That’s not how it was supposed to turn out today. It also means that you can’t help but wonder if the fat +352 price on the underdog is fat enough to make it worth a bet. Can he beat a guy who is so incredibly good, but was so obviously hurting on Saturday that there were legitimate rumors that he might not even play on Sunday?
Woods is the deserved favorite, but here are three reasons why Mediate may be worth a shot. It might not be the best bet ever, but at the very least it is more interesting betting on the cagey underdog than the robotic favorite, and it makes a much better story if you win:
1. Tiger’s injury – I am so sick of hearing about Tiger’s meniscus that I just might puke. No matter how overplayed and over-discussed the knee injury might be, it is crucially important here. He clearly isn’t healthy. If this were a short playoff then I wouldn’t be that worried because he could rely on adrenaline to play through it. It’s a full round, though, so this is a totally different thing. Tiger was worse physically on Saturday than Friday, and worse on Sunday than Saturday. There is a very real chance that he will be even worse on Monday. How big is that chance? Hard to tell, but if I had to quantify the chances it would be far more likely that he will struggle physically than these odds suggest. That’s a check mark in Rocco’s favor.
2. Rocco’s experience – Mediate isn’t a PGA superstar, and he never has been in his career, but he has been around the block. And around it again. And around a few more times. He turned pro in 1986, and he has overcome serious injuries and setbacks to win five PGA events. That’s more than a lot of guys can claim, including several major winners. He’s seen and done enough that he probably isn’t going to melt down under pressure. He’s been around Woods for a long time, he knows all about how to perform and what it takes, and he shouldn’t be intimidated in the playoff. Don’t get me wrong – Tiger has a massive edge in experience. It’s just that I have a lot more faith in Mediate when it comes to withstanding the pressure than I would in most guys. On the plus side, Mediate has never played an 18 hole playoff for a Major, but then neither has Woods. On that count they are in the same boat.
3. Nothing to lose – Mediate isn’t an idiot, so he knows that this is quite likely his last shot to win a Major. He’s 45, his back is a wreck, and he has struggled to make a cut this year, so his PGA career is on borrowed time and he knows it. That could be depressing, but he sure isn’t playing like it this week. If he has the right mindset on Monday then he will be able to let it all hang out and aggressively go for it because there is truly no reason to do anything else. I can’t profess to know much about Mediate, so I can’t say how he will respond in the final. The chance that he will rise up and shine (like he already has) combined with everything else that is a factor here, makes him an entertaining and not at all disastrous bet. It’s not the way to get rich quick, but I don’t think it is throwing money away, either. I look at it this way – there is no way in the world I would bet on Tiger at his price, so Mediate can’t be that unattractive.