SAN DIEGO — Why couldn’t a senior citizen get a break?

Why do the gods of fate let one man collect all the trophies?  What’s another championship to a man who has more than he can count?

Why couldn’t those gods of fate let an aging pro — with an enlarging waist line, a troublesome back, but one full of humility, good humor, class and genial sportsmanship — have his day in the sun?

A Rocco Mediate story would have been like the mechanic hitting the lottery. A blind man making a hole-in-one. David slaying Goliath. Appalachian State defeating Michigan. Truman beating Dewey. The Allies landing on Normandy.

There is time left for Tiger Woods to catch Jack Nicklaus in the race to win the most major titles, but this is the end of the trail for Rocco Mediate. Oh, he’ll go on to significant earnings in the next half dozen years on the regular tour, and then enjoy the good life of the Champions Tour, but he now must get lumped in those groups of athletes who never win a Super Bowl or the World Series.

He can tell his grandkids about the time he almost became the greatest sports story of our time, a 46-year-old golfer edging into his golden years winning the toughest-to-win major championship and upsetting the world’s greatest golfer in the process. Sadly, we are deprived of that story.

Life will go on, and we’ll turn our focus to the British Open, where Tiger, who is gaining momentum as one lucky hombre, is likely to stick a dagger in the heart of some other unlucky golfing soul. He could get up and down from hell. A “makeable” putt for him is anything inside 40 feet, if a hole or tournament is on the line.   

Make no mistake, he won this championship fair and square. He gutted it out, sore left knee and all, but he proved once again that he can make shots that no other player on the tour can make in the heat of battle.

However, it was the journeyman pro with an eye on the senior tour who gave him his best competition in this tournament. Head-to-head with Tiger more often than not brings about a retreat to the rear for most pros who have faced off with the Tiger with a championship on the line.

The gamblers most likely designated Rocco to the “field.” You probably could have gotten plenty of action if you had wandered around you local club asking for bets on whether or not he would make the cut.

Everybody will be reacquainted with Rocco now. He’ll be the beneficiary of applause and toasts in the coming weeks — initially, perhaps, more than Tiger, although Tiger’s bearing up under adversity earned him limitless respect.

Tiger played like a limping, seasoned NFL veteran who always lines up for kickoff. You’ve got to play hurt was never more graphically defined than in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

What Tiger and Rocco did was make the United States Golf Association look good with its antiquated playoff format. The USGA insists on a fifth round of 18 holes when there is a tie. All other major championships are decided on the final day, weather permitting.

The Masters and the PGA championships are decided with sudden death. The USGA considers that an unfair format. The British seem to have the most sensible solution — six more holes of medal play.

If there is no winner after that, then sudden death determines the champion.

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