GOLF: Rocco ready to rock-and-roll with new hopes

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) - For most people, the defining moment of Rocco Mediate's career was fearlessly taking on Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines before losing on the 19th hole of a thrill-a-minute playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open.

That's not the way he looks at it.

"San Jose took care of that," Mediate said at Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions.

Not many were even watching last October when Mediate won the Open at CordeValle Golf Club in the suburbs of San Jose, Calif., one of the most entertaining final hours of golf all year. He holed out with a wedge on the 17th hole for eagle - his fourth time holing out that week - and made a 5-foot par putt on the final hole for his first win in eight years.

What's the big deal of winning a Fall Series event?

He received a two-year exemption instead of going back to Q-school, and now has a card until he gets to the Champions Tour. Going back to Kapalua is always a treat. Beyond that, however, he proved to himself that even at 48, he can still get it done.

"People are going to think what they think," Mediate said. "I didn't want Torrey to be the last thing I did that was any good. Once I won in San Jose ... I had the 5-footer to win. I had to do this, and I did it. And that was really cool. That proved to me, that whether I win another or not, Torrey wasn't the end."

Not that he has forgotten Torrey Pines.

For all the perceptions that players fold when going up against Woods, Mediate was always an exception. At the Phoenix Open in 1999, Mediate had a big lead with Woods in the final group and realized if he hit every fairway and every green, Woods couldn't beat him. Mediate recalls hitting 13 fairways and 17 greens and winning handily.

The U.S. Open was no exception.

"When I woke up Monday at Torrey, I remember telling people around me, 'There's no question I'm going to beat this guy today,"' he said. "I've got him tee-to-green right now, and that's all the U.S. Open is. And I beat him tee-to-green soundly ... and he just beat me."

Despite his six wins - his first was 20 years ago at Doral - Mediate calls that U.S. Open "one of the coolest days ever, one of my coolest weeks ever."

"I loved every second of it, although I lost," he said. "But now that I won another event on this tour, it's huge."

Mediate is all about feeling cool and loving every minute of it.

He surprised his three sons when they arrived in Hawaii with his first tattoo. Seems he was doing a photo shoot for Golf Digest on players who take risks, and they suggested he get a henna tattoo, which eventually would wash away.

"I said, 'henna comes off, right? Well, what risk is that?"' Mediate said. "I've been wanting to do this for a while, and it was a perfect opportunity."

On his right arm, he has a tattoo that says "RNM," initials of his three sons - Rocco, Nikko and Marco.

"If I was going to get a tattoo, I wanted it to mean something," Mediate said. "That's a pretty good tribute to the boys, something never comes off my body. You know me, I'll probably add to it. I won't have a sleeve, but I'll probably add to it."

Mediate had a blast showing it off to his sons. He recalls casually rubbing up the right sleeve of his shirt to reveal the tattoo, and his sons figuring it was a temporary tattoo. He told them to rub on it.

"They were like, 'Oh, my gawwwddd!,"' Mediate said. "I'm 48 and got cooler."

There's a lot of cool stuff going on with Mediate right now, the only surprise that it comes at this stage in his career. He has a new series of commercials with Dick's Sporting Goods that he suggested when he thought the original script was too dull.

As for his game? Mediate says his lower back has never felt better, and he has never had such an understanding of his swing.

"You wait your whole career to feel like I feel right now, as far as physically and what I'm doing with the golf club," he said. "And it's pretty cool."

The last time Mediate was at Kapalua was in 2003, and he tied for second. That happened to be the year Ernie Els set the tournament record at 31-under 261, so Mediate wound up eight shots behind with K.J. Choi.

He also had a good week at the Phoenix Open in 2001 when he finished 20-under 264. Just his luck, that was his week that Mark Calcavecchia set a PGA Tour record at 256.

"If you're going to finish second, finishing second to the lowest score ever is not a bad thing," he said.


CADDIE CHANGES: Along with some equipment changes for players, a few of them have new caddies to start the year.

Camilo Villegas lost his looper when Brett Waldman decided to try playing for a living, and in an amazing effort, secured his Nationwide Tour card for the year. Villegas is trying out new caddies, starting out the season with Mick Doran of England, who previously has worked for Lee Westwood and David Howell, among others.

Ernie Els has employed Mike Kerr, who had a good break coming to him. Louis Oosthuizen was preparing to split with his longtime caddie and lined up Kerr to work for him. Kerr decided to leave Nick Dougherty and was all set to begin his new job when Oosthuizen went and won the British Open, and stuck with caddie Zack Rasego.

A few other changes will show up later.

Sean O'Hair parted with caddie Paul Tesori and picked up Brennan Little, the longtime friend and caddie for Mike Weir. Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reported Thursday that Weir has hired Pete Bender, among the most esteemed caddies on tour.

Doran is not sure how long his tryout will last - he is working Kapalua and next week in Honolulu. But he's at least prepared for the rough walk on the mountainous Plantation Course.

He worked Q-school at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla., not realizing how long the course is. Doran figured it was a seven-mile walk each day, counting the distance between some greens and tees. He did the math and realized after the week that it was equivalent of walking from his home in Tampa, Fla., to the exit he would take for Orange County.


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