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IN THE ROUGH: Take me out to the golf course

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By Dave Kavanaugh

Ordinarily, I don’t watch hours upon hours of televised golf.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for competitive golfers, who possess a combination of dexterity, skill, patience and perseverance I can’t help but envy. It’s just that as far as good times go, I usually find about a thousand things more appealing than the Golf Channel.

Say, for instance, the National Spelling Bee finals — the best comedy value on T.V. Cinemax is good, too, at certain times of the day.

Thanks to the U.S. Open this past weekend, consider me a golf fan.

Let me first explain that the decision to watch the Open in the first place was not really mine. I’d journeyed to Albuquerque for Father’s Day, and I knew my dad would be glued to the T.V., rooting for the son he wishes he had — Tiger Woods. I resigned myself to spending the afternoon watching full-grown men chase a little white ball around — absurd enough — and watching 20,000 spectators watching them — even more absurd.

Early on in the Open’s final round, some guy named Westwood and 157th ranked afterthought Rocco Mediate had joined Woods atop the leaderboard. I told my brother it was only a matter of time before Westwood and Mediate choked under the pressure, blowing a key putt or two, to allow Tiger to win for the 47,000th time.

I called it right, I guess.

Only problem is that it took two days — including an extra 18-hole playoff round Monday and a sudden-death hole after that — to secure Woods’ 14th major victory. When I made my fearless prediction, I figured Tiger would be well ahead by the 15th hole Sunday.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the battle between Woods and Mediate made for riveting television. Rocco, the ultimate underdog whose grin-and-shrug routine after each hole brought to mind a combination of Gomer Pyle and Jerry Lewis, played the tournament of his life. I couldn’t help but root for him.

And what of Tiger? Rooting for HIM is like cheering for the Harlem Globetrotters; he’s so much better than the rest of the field that it’s a stunner when he doesn’t win.

But the world’s greatest golfer was visibly slowed and hampered by pain from his recent knee surgery — and, as we found out later, by additional injury.

While Rocco looked flabbergasted — Gee whiz! Did I get the ball in, Sarge? — after each hole, Tiger winced and grimaced and frequently cursed after each of his.

So we had Gomer Pyle, USMC, and a guy swearing like a sailor.

Tiger could have easily opted not to compete in the Open, delaying his return a few weeks or more. But he’s such a fierce competitor with such a will to win that he apparently couldn’t stay away. And you can’t help but admire that gritty determination.

Rocco didn’t waver as others in a similar position have done. He might’ve looked like a guy who’d just wandered onto the course without a clue, but he played like a guy with nothing to lose. Aggressive, but calm and cool.

Fighting through the pain, Tiger nailed every shot he had to nail down the stretch Sunday, tying Rocco and forcing the playoff.

On Monday, it was Rocco’s turn for the comeback. He got into a three-stroke deficit midway through the round only to creep back into it, one stroke at a time over three or four holes. It was a stalemate again at the round’s end, prompting sudden death.

Alas, on that 19th hole, poor Rocco chucked his ball into the rough one time too many. Tiger sank the par-saving putt he needed to edge his 45-year-old foe, and another U.S. Open was in the books.

With moments of brilliance like the Robertson girls’ state runner-up finish this past spring, I knew golf could be inspiring. But who knew golf could be so entertaining?

•••

Kudos to North-South baseball selection Nathan Klein and softball picks Faith Gallegos, Larissa Baca and Victoria Olguin. Nice job, all.

Dave Kavanaugh is sports editor of

the Optic. He once shot a golf score of 71 — on the first hole.