With one healthy leg and a bagful of determination, Tiger Woods withstood a double bogey and bogey on his first two holes and maintained his bid for a third U.S. Open title by overcoming pain, dogged challengers and the longest course in tournament history.
He'll have to wait until today to try to seal the deal.
Woods, the leader entering Sunday, sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate. Both players finished at 1-under-par 283 at Torrey Pines South.
"I've never been in this situation before," said Woods, who is 13-0 in majors when leading after three rounds. "After the start I got off to, I could have played myself right out of the tournament. I'm very fortunate to get into a playoff."
Lee Westwood, Woods's playing partner, also had a chance to join the playoff but missed a 15-footer for birdie at No. 18.
In his first event since left knee surgery two months ago, Woods came to the final hole with a chance to win the tournament at the 527-yard par-5 hole where he made an eagle 3 to end Saturday's third round. He drove into a fairway bunker on the left side, then blasted to the second cut of rough. He pitched out from there to set up his dramatic putt.
Westwood, meantime, had driven into a right fairway bunker. He pitched to the fairway, then chipped onto the green to get himself in position to extend the tournament.
Mediate watched both his pursuers on a television from the scoring area just off the 18th green. He had made birdie 3 at No. 14 to get to 2 under for the tournament but followed with a bogey at the 15th before parring in.
"I did what I could," said Mediate, whose highest previous finish at a U.S. Open was fourth in 2001. "I just can't stand to root against someone."
That was apparent after Woods made his putt. Mediate smiled and simply said, "Unbelievable. I knew he would make it."
Woods and Mediate will duel in the first U.S. Open playoff since 2001, when Retief Goosen beat Mark Brooks at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.
Ahead by one to start Sunday's final round, Woods began by missing the fairway for the fourth straight day at No. 1. His tee shot sailed well left and settled in mangled rough between a tree and a walking path. He needed two swings to advance the ball out of the rough, chipped on and two-putted for his third double bogey on the hole in four rounds.
That gave the lead to Mediate, who birdied the par-4 second thanks to an approach that came to rest six feet from the hole.
The duress of three rounds of golf two months after surgery left Woods limping out of the tee box at No. 2. After he pushed his drive into the rough, Woods hit his approach to 60 feet. His birdie putt stopped four feet from the hole, and his par attempt missed by inches, dropping him to third place.
Westwood, meantime, made consecutive pars at Nos. 1 and 2 to move ahead of his playing partner into second. Westwood said after Saturday's third round he was unfazed having to chase Woods. That poise comes from experience.
Westwood trailed Woods by two shots entering the final round of the 2000 Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany and won by four shots. They did not play in the same group during the final round of that tournament, and Westwood shot a 64 for the comfortable victory.
"It's better to have done it than not done it," Westwood said of coming back to beat Woods. "So yeah, it does mean something."
Westwood had dropped into the 200s in the world rankings after rising to first on the European tour's Order of Merit in 2000. The dependable Ryder Cup performer's steady climb back to the sport's elite included relying less on teachers and more on tenacity.
"Because at the end of the day, sitting in the middle of the 18th fairway with a 5-wood, there's no coach telling you what to do," Westwood said.
Westwood had been playing efficiently over the first three rounds at Torrey Pines.
His five bogeys during that span were the fewest in the field, he did not make a double bogey, and he did not shoot above par in any of those rounds.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun