A great Champions Tour fit, Mediate opens career with Allianz victorySEA ISLAND, GA - OCTOBER 14: Rocco Mediate hits a shot durng the second round of the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island's Seaside Course on October 14, 2011 in Sea Island, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)February 10, 2013
By Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
BOCA RATON, Fla. – Now we know why Rocco Mediate couldn’t wait to join the Champions Tour.
All it took was three days of hard work for Mediate to lift his first trophy on the 50-and-older circuit. It didn’t come easy Sunday at the Allianz Championship – his three-shot lead to start the final round was gone by the 14th hole -- but the key is it did come.
Mediate took advantage of Tom Pernice Jr.’s bogey on the 17th hole after a bad break, and then protected that lead with a clutch birdie on the par-5 18th at Broken Sound to become just the 16th player to win his Champions Tour debut.
When told afterward he had joined his childhood hero Arnold Palmer and Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, among others, to win his first Champions start, Mediate shook his head in disbelief.
“I don’t belong with those guys,” he said.
But he certainly belongs on the Champions Tour. Hey, he’s the only unbeaten player in the history of the tour, at least for another four days.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Mediate, who shot 71 Sunday to finish at 17-under 199.
Mediate won six times on the PGA TOUR, yet is probably more famous for a tournament he didn’t win. Mediate says he still hears daily about his runner-up finish to Tiger Woods in a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
But now Mediate’s got something else for fans to talk to him about. Rocco plays fast and talks even faster. His outgoing personality is perfect for the Champions Tour, especially at a time when crowd favorite Fuzzy Zoeller’s career is winding down.
Case in point: Holding just a one-shot lead on the par-3 eighth hole, Mediate saw a friend on the tee and started chatting with him. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I’ve got a joke to tell you.”
After hitting a 7-iron to 5 feet, Mediate returned to deliver the punch line. “He’s like, ‘Don’t you have to putt here?’” Mediate said. Yep, and he made it.
But when Mediate flared his tee shot at the par-3 14th and bogeyed it to fall into a tie with Pernice, some wondered if this was going to be another runner-up finish. Not Mediate.
“That made me really mad,” he said. “It was like, ‘Game on.’”
Does winning his first Champions Tour start mean Mediate’s going to dominate this tour? Who knows? The last guy to do it, Pernice three years ago, hasn’t won in his 37 starts since. Lanny Wadkins, another Hall of Famer, won his first Champions start in 2000, but never came close again.
Then again, Bruce Fleisher, who had one victory in 416 starts on the PGA TOUR, won his first Champions Tour start. And his second. And 16 more times.
“I really feel like I can do some cool things here,” Mediate said. “That’s the plan. I’m going to put the work in, that’s for sure.”
Whether Mediate follows the path of Fleisher or Wadkins remains to be seen. Mediate insists he showed up this week just trying to earn the respect of his old pals, something Pernice, whose tee shot at No. 17 clipped the top of a tree and led to the costly bogey, said was not necessary.
“He’s a very established player,” Pernice said. “From my perspective, he didn’t have to prove anything. Usually when guys come out after they have stayed exempt on the regular TOUR, they play well. I would be surprised if Rocco didn’t play well out here.”
Rocco played well enough to win Sunday.
Both the tournament and a lot more fans.