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BILL DWYRE

Rocco Mediate has knee problems of his own

Less than three weeks after surgery, U.S. Open runner-up shoots rounds of 70-68 at Riviera, his favorite course.

February 21, 2009|BILL DWYRE

It turns out that, in all the dramatics of last year's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, we knew only part of the story.

Tiger Woods hobbled around for 91 holes, winning on a wounded knee and in a fashion that will be recounted with awe and admiration for years. Rightfully so.

But until this week at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, it was not commonly known that the other guy walking those 91 holes and losing by one shot was a slightly wounded warrior himself.

Rocco Mediate had a bum right knee. Not as bad as Woods' shredded left, but nowhere near 100% healthy.

Headline writers could have run nicely with that. Hop-a-Long Versus Limp-a-Long. Ligament Edges Out Cartilage. Two Players, Two Good Knees. Tiger or Rocco: Who Kneeded It More?

(Sorry).

Mediate damaged his knee when he stepped in a hole during a tournament in 2007 and has hauled it around ever since.

"Yes, it was there at Torrey," Mediate said Friday. "I just didn't say anything."

Nor did he mean to imply that his cartilage mess was anywhere near as severe as Tiger's ligament damage and stress fractures in the same leg. But it certainly had to be a factor for the then-45-year-old.

There is certainly coincidence in timing for golf's Knee Brothers.

Thursday, Woods announced he will be making his comeback next week in the match-play event near Tucson. The last time we saw him, he was hugging Mediate after the last putt at Torrey Pines in June, and heading toward surgery and eight months at home of taking out the garbage.

Thursday, Mediate teed off quietly, walked slowly around the Riviera course while managing a one-under-oar 70. Friday, he walked it again and turned in a three-under 68.

The good news, for Mediate, is that he made the cut at four under and will play two more rounds today and Sunday.

The bad news, for his physical therapist and surgeon, is that Mediate made the cut and will play two more rounds today and Sunday.

Only 18 days ago, after he dragged the knee around the Sunday round of the FBR Open in Scottsdale on Feb. 1, Mediate had surgery done by Dr. Tom Knapp of the Santa Monica Orthopedic Group. Immediately thereafter, his physical therapist, Cindy Hilfman, took over.

The goal was to get him ready to play at Riviera, his "favorite track," according to Hilfman.

Asked Friday what it would have taken to keep him out of this tournament, Mediate said, "Death."

Almost happened. Well, not exactly, but things did get a bit scary.

The day after the surgery, Mediate came down with an infection. It wasn't in the knee, and it wasn't flu, but his temperature was 103.

"It was the perfect storm," Hilfman said. "He took lots of Advil just to get through the FBR, then he ate spicy food and drank too much coffee."

So there was Mediate -- forever known for his playoff battle with Woods in the U.S. Open and for his gracious way with the fans while remaining competitive in the matchup -- with a bleeding ulcer. He was hooked up to an IV, too weak to practice, finding the mere act of swallowing a sip of water painful, and less than three weeks away from his tee time at Riviera.

"Neither Tom [Knapp] nor I wanted him to do this," Hilfman said. "He'd never stop talking about Riviera and we'd just roll our eyes."

On Feb. 9, Mediate was still hooked up to an IV. Tuesday, two days before the tournament, he played nine holes at L.A. Country Club, and, according to another friend, wasn't walking well at all. That was the same day he did a golf clinic at a Roger Dunn store.

As much as he needed it, there was little time to rest.

Mediate lives here part of the time now, and is introduced on the first tee as being from Los Angeles, although his residence remains listed in the media guide as Naples, Fla.

Wednesday night, he was honored at a Bel-Air Country Club dinner and Hilfman read a letter he had received from a fan who had lost his daughter in an accident on her high school graduation night.

"The man wrote how he had watched the U.S. Open and how Rocco had inspired him," she said. "He said in his letter that he had learned that you can lose, but not be beaten."

During the round Friday, Mediate got off his feet as often as he could, including a couple of sit-downs in the fairway during delays. He also checked out the Kinesio tape that Hilfman had on the knee to keep the swelling down.

In between all that, he offset two bogeys with five birdies and shot his 68. Any golfer with healthy knees would die for that at Riviera.

"Pretty darn good, considering everything," Mediate said.

As soon as he finished and signed his scorecard, Mediate was off to see Knapp and get fluid drained from the knee.

Today, he will tee off within sight of the guys on the leaderboard. Remarkable.

Mediate calls himself the "Old Warrior." How about the "Gutsy Old Warrior?"

One wonders, in the highly unlikely chance that Mediate has enough left to make a run at the trophy this weekend, if the other bad knee will catch the telecast at home in Florida.

A nice visual: Hop-a-Long rooting for Limp-a-Long.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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