One choice we don't want to make

This was one for both the aged and the ages.

 

Tiger Woods' thrilling comeback win in Monday's 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open against 45-year-old Rocco Mediate was as good as it gets -- in any sport. It was back-and-forth, neck-and-neck until the very last hole -- and beyond, as the players needed an extra, 91st , hole to determine the winner.

And none of it would have been necessary if not for Woods' clutch, lip-skimming 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th on Sunday to tie surprise leader Mediate and force a playoff on Monday.

And talk about a daytime drama! No soap opera could have offered as much suspense, as Woods and Mediate traded shots and leads as the pressure made Mediate "nervous as a cat."

Woods, who seems to bottle and sell such moments, concluded it was the most gratifying of his 14 major tournament wins, second all-time to Jack Nicklaus' 18.

It was no less satisfying for the thousands of fans fortunate enough to follow the heavyweight match along the bluffs of Torrey Pines in San Diego. They witnessed one of the sport's great finishes.

It's going to be hard for U.S. Open officials to justify dropping its old-fashioned 18-hole playoff system after Monday's gripping finish.

Many, including Chronicle sports columnist Scott Michaux, have argued that the system is antiquated, hard on players and unfair to fans who plunk down their dollars on Sundays in full expectation of seeing a winner.

As exhilarating as Monday's playoff was, it may have ironically provided yet another reason for its demise: Tiger Woods struggled to finish the regular 72 holes this past weekend on his thrice-repaired left knee. Having to play an extra 19 holes on Monday could not have helped.

Certainly, one tournament won't make or break a knee that's gone under the knife three times, most recently just days after the Masters in April.

But U.S. Open officials will need to consider even a remote possibility that by extending the tournament by 18 holes, they may have had a hand in shortening the career of arguably golf's greatest player ever.

Ultimately, asked to choose between extending Woods' career and keeping the kind of history-making 18-hole playoff we saw on Monday, we'd be glad to leave even the best 18 holes to history. We'd rather not choose, though.

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