Nearly three years removed from his epic playoff battle with Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Rocco Mediate is starting over — again.
Mediate’s career has been derailed several times because of chronic back problems, and he had surgery on his right knee in 2009. The latest ailment was to his left elbow, and he had three platelet-rich plasma injections early this year to repair small tears in a tendon.
"The elbow feels good," he said when he tied for 66th three weeks ago in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, starting well at 70-72 before playing the weekend in 75-78.
"I’m going to take two weeks off (because he did not qualify for the Masters) and then try to play in a bunch of tournaments, starting with San Antonio."
That would be this week in the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio, but Rocco can play everywhere and anywhere on the PGA Tour this season, other than the majors and World Golf Championships, because he won the Frys.com Open during the Fall Series in October.
Since he is 48, it gave him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour before he heads off to the Champions Tour.
Or as Rocco quipped, it made him "exempt for life."
Mediate’s victory at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., was the sixth of his PGA Tour career, the first since the 2002 Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, and undoubtedly the most unusual.
After building a three-stroke lead by shooting 64-65-67 over the first three days, he was in the process of giving it all away in the last round when he holed his approach shot from 116 yards with a pitching wedge on the 17th hole.
It was his fourth hole-out in as many days, one for each, and his response was priceless.
"What’s going on?" he said into the hand-held, on-course TV camera.
It still wasn’t over, however. Mediate had to sink a five-foot putt for par on the final hole to close out a 2-over-par 73 and a one-stroke victory over Bo Van Pelt and Alex Prugh.
"Pretty much a hole-in-one and then three shots from the fairway," Mediate said of four shots that shaved eight strokes off par during his fairytale week. "Pretty much made every putt I looked at for three and a half days and still had to make a five-footer. It’s hard to win out here. But I tell you what, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
"Unbelievable. I can’t believe it. I mean, I don’t know how to explain it. You know, the last three weeks I kept telling everybody … everything is coming around, and it was."
Until winning, Mediate’s only top-10 finish in the previous two seasons was a tie for ninth in the 2009 Legends Reno-Tahoe Open and he was on the verge of losing his PGA Tour card.
Q-school was looming.
"I can’t believe that happened because I was pretty much dead," said Mediate, who held the lead on Sunday at the 2006 Masters before his back seized up on him and he shot 46 on the final nine holes to slide to a tie for 36th.
"I was dead in the water. I had my application to Tour School. I was ready to go play a practice round on Bayonet (site of PGA Tour Qualifying School) down there in Monterey on that Wednesday. But it was too cold so we blew it off.
"Thank God I didn’t have to do it. I’m very fortunate. It was awesome."
The PGA Tour and its fans benefited as much or more than Mediate, one of the most approachable and popular players on the circuit and one of the few who still has the attitude of the golfers from the Arnold Palmer era.
You simply can’t help but love a guy who says, "The only time you have to worry about autographs is when they stop asking. As long as they have ink, I’ll sign."
What you see is what you get from Rocco.
Even true is that TV commercial with Dick’s Sporting Goods in which he says he is getting all his golf tools there this year because he does not have an endorsement contract with an equipment company.
His deal with Callaway ran out last season and he didn’t look for a new one, even though with his everyman appeal he probably could have found one quite easily.
"I don’t want a boss anymore; I’m going to do my own thing," said Mediate, whose golf bag contains an eclectic mix of clubs. "So, I can play and do anything I want. … I can play any club I want, I can change anytime I want, I can do whatever I want. Nobody can tell me anything anymore.
"That is huge because I have a really good set of golf clubs. I have had the same set since June and I don’t plan on changing. I have Titleist irons, Adams driver, Fourteen 3-wood, Cameron putter.
"I think there are only a couple (players) like this because it is hard to say no to money, but can you perform better doing what you want to do? I proved that I could, so that is what I am going to do."