FARMINGDALE, N.Y. --- Rocco Mediate arrived at Bethpage Black's driving range Tuesday moments after Tiger Woods left, settling in one spot away from where the reigning U.S. Open champion practiced.
Talk about fitting.
Mediate will forever be remembered as being right beside Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open, where not even a mano-a-mano 18-hole Monday playoff was enough to break their tie. The world's No. 1 player ultimately prevailed on the 91st hole.
"The greatest memory of my golfing career," Mediate said.
He's relived that memory every day since. The 46-year-old Pennsylvanian gave Woods all he wanted at Torrey Pines, succumbing only to a combination of Tiger moments -- the birdie putt on the 72nd hole that left Woods thrusting fists in the air, then another birdie on the 18th hole Monday to extend the playoff.
Mediate never performed better than in that glorious week last summer. When this year's Open starts Thursday, he will enter a major championship carrying the burden of expectation for the first time.
"So there's a little extra heat on me. I like that feeling," he said.
He took 76 shots in that 19-hole Monday playoff a year ago, and he doesn't like two of them: a wayward 6-iron on the first hole, and a putt on the 18th hole that never broke and kept Woods' hopes alive. They're the ones that stick with him, not the pulled drive on the sudden-death hole or the second shot out of the sand that struck the grandstand.
Instead, those are moments he embraces. He picked up the ball that struck the stands and happily pantomimed throwing it to the green, hardly buckling in the pressure cooker situation.
Mediate started getting a full appreciation of what it meant months later, when a Texas man who lost his daughter in a car crash shortly before last year's U.S. Open sent him a letter and explained his family's plight. John Ray had never heard of Mediate before that week at Torrey Pines, yet found himself rooting for the underdog.
"You showed me that it is possible to lose and yet not be beaten," Ray wrote.
To Mediate, that meant as much, if not more, than the silver cup he would have hoisted if he'd won. "He got something from that," Mediate said. "I think that was cool."