Phoenix Open
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Mediate holds off Leonard, Woods for first win since 1993

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. There should be no more questions about Rocco Mediate's back.

The 36-year-old Mediate, who considered retirement during two years trying to recover from back surgery, turned out to be the healthiest player in the Phoenix Open.

Mediate conquered his nerves and two of golf's most dangerous closers today, shooting an unspectacular even-par 71 to beat 26-year-old Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, by two strokes and 23-year-old Tiger Woods, the 1997 Masters champion, by three.

"I knew Justin was going to charge, which he has done in golf; Tiger did charge and just didn't make anything," said Mediate, who bogeyed the fifth hole and then had seven straight pars before getting a birdie putt to drop. "He hit the shots he had to. He just didn't convert."

Woods got the break of the tournament on No. 13, a 585-yard par-5, after his tee shot landed in front of a boulder in a desert area to the left of the fairway.

Rules official Orlando Pope quickly decided the obstacle fell in the category of a loose impediment which wasn't "solidly embedded'' and therefore could be moved. (See Decisions 23-1/2 and 23-1/3 in Decisions on the Rules of Golf on USGA Web site.)

About a dozen men from the gallery rolled the 1,000-pound rock out of the way, and Woods hit into a greenside bunker with his second shot. He played out well and sank a 5-foot putt for birdie. However, Mediate also birdied the hole so Woods didn't pick up any ground.

Mediate started the final round six strokes ahead on Woods and seven ahead of Leonard. He finished with a 72-hole total of 11-under 273 to earn his third career PGA Tour victory.

Mediate won at Doral in 1991, becoming the first to earn a title with his trademark long-handled putter, and at Greensboro in 1993.

He had surgery the next year on the disk that controls a golfer's rotation, and made only eight cuts in 1995. But he returned to the tour under a special medical extension in 1996, and keyed a successful year with a sixth-place tie in Phoenix that allowed him to regain full playing privileges.

Leonard carded a final-round 66, matching the best of the tournament on a markedly tougher TPC of Scottsdale course. Three years ago, he shot 269 to tie for first and lost to Phil Mickelson in a playoff.

"I'm sure I could find a couple shots in there somewhere, but it just wasn't in the cards," said Leonard, who made a great recovery after being 3-over for tournament through 32 holes. He played the last four holes of his second round on Saturday morning in 3-under en route to playing the final 40 holes of the tournament in 12-under.

Woods, who won seven of his first 38 PGA Tour events but now has gone 13 in a row without a victory, shot 68 after parring the first 10 holes.

"I needed to shoot something under par on the front nine to get a little closer to him and make it more realistic on the back nine," Woods said. "Because the way he's been putting and the way he's been driving the golf ball, all he needs to do is just right the ship."

Hal Sutton was fourth at 279, with Bill Glasson, who won this event in 1994, fifth at 280.

Kevin Wentworth, Kenny Perry, Harrison Frazar and Jim Furyk, at 282, and Dudley Hart, J.P. Hayes, Stewart Cink and 1993 Phoenix champion Lee Janzen, at 283, were the only other players to break par for the tournament.

Last year, the top 50 finishers broke par, prompting changes at the course to make it more similar to a U.S. Open setup.

The winner's purse of $540,000 -- double what Mediate won at Greensboro six years ago -- boosted him to third on the current PGA Tour money list with $560,850 after two events.

David Duval, who earned $1,008,000 while winning his first two tournaments, including last week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic where he closed with a record-tying 59, failed to capitalise on the 66 he shot Saturday and was never in the picture today. He struggled to his second 74 of the week and wound up 1-over, which put him in a tie for 18th.

Mediate clinched the win over the last three holes, including a tee shot on No. 18 that he called the best shot he ever hit.

But he got rolling on the 12th green after an exchange with a fan who yelled that Mediate would "fold like a cheap suit" if Woods made a birdie putt.

"It was a stupid thing to say, but it got me going a little bit, and I roasted it off the tee at 13. ... So that's my first birdie."

Mediate, who approached the par-3 16th at 10-under with a two-shot cushion on Leonard, hit his tee shot over the green onto the fringe, and his first putt rolled past, but he sank a 6-foot, uphill comeback to save par after Woods missed yet another makeable birdie putt.

On the next hole, a deceptive, 332-yard par-4, he took a risky line along the left water hazard and drove onto the front of the green. His 90-foot putt rolled 10 feet past the hole. Mediate, still using the long putter, jammed the ball into the cup for his second birdie on the back nine.

Leonard, playing one group ahead, birdied No. 17, but wasn't able to sink what he thought was the tying putt on the final hole.

Woods got his first birdie on the 11th hole, but on the par-3 12th he two-putted from 6 feet for par after an excellent tee shot. After his birdie on 13, however, Woods made only one more birdie the rest of the way -- on the 17th where he momentarily drew within two of Mediate before Mediate made his own birdie to move back to two ahead of Leonard and three ahead of Woods.


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