LA JOLLA -- There are all kinds of playoffs in golf. Some happen in sudden death. You beat the other player on the first extra hole, and it's over. That's what you see at the Masters.
Ask Greg Norman and Larry Mize.
If there is a playoff at the British Open and the PGA Championship, the best score after you play four holes wins. Seems reasonable, four holes are a lot.
Then there is the U.S. Open, where a playoff takes on a life of its own.
It doesn't last only one hole or two or three or even four. It's so big, it has its own day, it takes up an entire 18 holes. The philosophy of the United States Golf Assn. is that our national championship is far too important to be decided in sudden death, which is understandable until you realize that if the playoff is still tied after 18 holes, it immediately becomes sudden death.
Anyway, if the 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is known for nothing else, it will be now: Extra innings.
Tiger Woods made sure that's what we will have today. He may have driven into a bunker at the 18th, then knocked his second shot into the rough, but after he landed safely on the green, Woods knew what to do with his 12-foot birdie putt and how to dispose of Rocco Mediate's one-shot lead.
Once the ball disappeared into the hole and Woods had completed his celebratory piston-pumping arm motions, he forced the first U.S. Open playoff in seven years.
Mediate waited in the cart barn outside the official scorer's, watching Woods on the tiny television perched on a shelf, shaking his head when the putt dropped, saying to no one in particular, "I knew he was going to make it."
As if 72 holes spread out over four days wasn't nearly enough to decide the best player at the U.S. Open, Woods can slug it out with Mediate for 18 holes, maybe longer, and decide it once and for all.
It's an interesting match-up, to say the least.
Tiger will wear the swoosh and Rocco the peace sign belt buckle.
Tiger has a bum knee and Rocco has a back so old it resists carbon dating.
Tiger has the clean, trim thing going and Rocco looks like the guy in the repair shop who changes the air filter in your car engine.
And here you have Woods, who hadn't walked 18 holes in two months because of his knee surgery and now must play 90 holes in the span of five days.
Normally, you wouldn't give Mediate much of a chance, but these are not normal days for Woods.
How well his left knee will hold up is open for speculation.
When asked about it Sunday, Woods answered in his typical, cryptic fashion.
"It is what it is," he said.
What it is, is probably not very good.
Woods said his doctors had some advice on how to handle his knee.
"Don't play golf," he said.
Then this U.S. Open isn't what the doctor ordered.
The normal recovery for an average person who had knee cartilage surgery is at least three months, according to Daniel Kharrazi, a sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
"It's amazing, he's only about eight weeks out from his surgery, and he's competing at a very high level," said Kharrazi, a consultant for the Lakers. "His mind factors into that, maybe more than his knee. Most people couldn't do that."
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Woods can do it.
Kharrazi said the force of the movement in Woods' knee is greatest when Woods hits his drives.
Woods winced noticeably after his tee shots.
Chances are, a sudden death playoff would be more in his favor, but those are not the rules of the game we're playing here. The last U.S. Open decided in a playoff was in 2001 at Southern Hills, where Retief Goosen defeated Mark Brooks, a playoff that was basically over at the turn.
But there's no reason to expect a runaway in this playoff. Mediate didn't exactly wilt Sunday. And more important, he should feel no pressure because he wasn't supposed to be here anyway.
Woods doesn't know any other kind of pressure except the kind that's circling him now.
He's no stranger to playoffs in majors. Woods defeated Bob May in four holes to win the 2000 PGA Championship and defeated Chris DiMarco in sudden death to win the 2005 Masters.
But Woods has never faced an 18-hole playoff format, or gone 90 holes with a surgically repaired knee that should still be in the healing process.
Is that too much to expect? After 18 holes, we'll find out.
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Long and short of it
TIGER WOODS (14-1)
Woods' playoff results in worldwide events (including 2-0 in majors):