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Grand Blanc — It’s a not matter of if, it’s a matter of when Tiger Woods will win again.

And not just win a tournament — win a major.

That’s the belief of Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in an epic 2008 U.S. Open playoff that remains a career highlight for the Greensburg, Pa. native.

“I’m not surprised by anything he does,” said Mediate, who was in Grand Blanc on Monday for Media Day at The Ally Challenge Sept. 14-16 at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. “I’m surprised he hasn’t won yet.

“(But) he’s coming. He’s coming fast.”

Woods, with 14 career majors, trails only Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 career major golf tournaments. Because of Woods’ long drought — that 2008 U.S. Open was Woods’ last major — there was much doubt Woods would catch Nicklaus.

Mediate, though, feels Woods can definitely make a run.

“Yes, several majors,” said Mediate, of how many Woods could still win. “Jack’s record is not safe. Trust me. We’re not talking about a normal guy here. I see it in his (Woods’) eyes. What he did Sunday at the PGA (shot a 64 to close within a shot of first place), many people don’t do that. He does it. It’s normal.

“He’s very close to where he wants to be, I think.”

Which is great, Mediate feels, because of the interest Woods brings to the game of golf.

“Golf needs him, he’s proven that,” Mediate said. “He’s the only one that moves the needle. The only one.”

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Mediate was 45 when he battled Woods for that U.S. Open title, which would have made Mediate the oldest U.S. Open champion ever.

Mediate held a one-shot lead before Woods birdied the 18th hole to force a Monday, 18-hole playoff. Both players shot an even-par 71, forcing sudden death, where Woods parred the par-4 7th hole, as Mediate made bogey.

Despite the gut-wrenching defeat, Mediate thrives on the memory.

“I remember everything. The whole thing. Remember every shot, every smell. Very special. It was real. It was cool.

“It’s one of the biggest highlights of my life, the most fun I’ve had. The national Open, against Tiger. Are you kidding me?  Of course it’s a highlight (of Mediate’s life).”

No changes

When the Champions Tour announced it would be returning to Warwick Hills — after the PGA Tour’s Buick Open left — many analysts expected changes to the course.

But the course will be largely the same, identical to when Warwick Hills was a regular PGA stop, and that’s fine with Mediate.

Mediate, who won the Buick Open in 2000 with a 20-under total, expressed nothing but praise for the condition of Warwick Hills.

“It’s an old-school course, we love the old-school courses,” Mediate said. “We like the new ones, too, but an older course like this, you love coming back to. You know what you’re going to get.

“Seeing it this morning, it’s real good. We’re looking forward to it.”

Keeping the ball in the fairway, said Mediate, will be crucial.

“You have to put the ball in the fairway, then you can play,” Mediate said. “Some of these greens are interesting. There are some interesting pins out there. You have to be playing from the fairway here, though there won’t be a lot of rough.”

The greens at Warwick always have been highly praised and Mediate concurred.

“They keep them in perfect shape,” Mediate said. “They’re just good, they’re firm, right now the fairways are running a little bit. I was out there at 7 a.m., but it’s nice. Hopefully, it won’t rain much.

“You give us perfect greens and perfect conditions and it’s going to be low scores. If it’s firm, you can reach most of the 5s. That’s why the scores are always low.”

Most of the players expected to play at The Ally Challenge were regulars at Warwick for the Buick Open, which was one of the more popular stops on the tour.

Returning to Grand Blanc, said Mediate, makes many players pleased.

“All of us are very excited,” said Mediate. “It’s always good to come back to a place where you’ve been at a lot of times over the years. We came here forever.

“It’s always good to come back to place you like this. Just playing this morning a little bit, it’s the same stuff. The same shots, the greens, you remember all that stuff.

“A few trees are gone, but that’s all right. It’s just cool to come back.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

The Ally Challenge

When: Sept. 14-16

Where: Grand Blanc’s Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club

TV: Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m., each day

Notable: There will be a fan zone located to the 17th hole, a Veterans Den located next to No. 18, and concerts by Big & Rich and Count’s 77 on Friday evening.

 

 

 

 

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