Fit and motivated, Rocco Mediate starts strong
BELMONT — Rocco Mediate took a liking to Belmont Country Club as soon as he set foot on the property. Actually, even before then.
“I loved it driving in, seeing a few holes on the side,” Mediate said. “Just reminds me of home, reminds me of Greensburg. I liked it when I saw it.”
It showed on Thursday, with Mediate breaking 70 on the Champions Tour for the first time since mid-April. His 4-under-par 67 left him in a tie for second, two shots behind Bernhard Langer.
Mediate grew up in Greensburg, Pa., and Belmont reminds him of the course he grew up playing: lots of uneven lies in the fairways, blind tee shots, tough greens. No wonder he got off to such a good start, despite playing just 25 holes during practice rounds.
“Golf course is fantastic,” said Mediate. “It just keeps you on your toes, really. My start lines on some of these holes are insane, but I know that it’s going to swing in certain spots, and I’ll use the hill or whatever to bring it back to the fairway most of the time.
“A few times it didn’t work by a foot, and then you’re toast.
“But it’s just a really good, old-school, how-they-used-to-build-them golf course, and that’s why they’re still good. Those guys knew what they were doing. [Designer Donald] Ross was good.”
Best known for taking Tiger Woods to 91 holes at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines — and losing on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, after the duo remained tied after an 18-hole playoff — Mediate is 52 now, and a full-time player on the Champions Tour, where he has won twice.
He’s also a new father (daughter Francesca Rose was born May 8) and said he has lost 40 pounds since Nov. 1. Fit and motivated, Mediate is off to a solid start, at a new place that feels like home.
He birdied the first two holes, bogeyed No. 3 when his tee shot spun back off the green, birdied the par-5 fourth after reaching the green in two, then added a pair of back-nine birdies, including the home hole.
Colin Montgomerie skipped last week’s Champions Tour event in Iowa, giving him two full weeks at home in Scotland before flying back across the Atlantic, something he has been doing on a fairly regular basis. That doesn’t make the travel any easier.
“It’s taken more out of me now, and the jet lag kicks in a couple days after,” said Montgomerie. “I was wide awake at 2, 3, 4 [a.m.].
“It’s actually much easier coming this way. Flying west in the world is much easier than flying east.”
His flight on Monday landed safely, but getting checked through proved to be a time-consuming challenge.
“It’s just a long day, especially at Logan Airport, when you sit in immigration for three hours trying to get into the place,” Montgomerie said. “We were actually held on the plane for half an hour because immigration was full.
“There were about four or five jumbos ahead of us, so the immigration was full. That was the first time it’s ever happened in my life. That was Monday evening, it almost became Tuesday morning.”
Montgomerie didn’t appear jet-lagged on Thursday, shooting a bogey-free 68.
Mike Reid was the tournament’s first alternate and received a spot in the field when Jay Haas withdrew before his 8:46 a.m. tee time. Haas, who won the 2007 Bank of America Championship at Nashawtuc Country Club, was on site Thursday, and has been dealing with a back injury. Fortunately for Reid, he was also on site, and assumed Haas’s place in the 8:46 pairing. An early birdie put Reid on the early leaderboard, but he had a pair of back-nine bogeys and shot even-par 71.
The second alternate also got in. Jeff Coston took the place of Tom Kite, who withdrew with a torn meniscus. Coston shot 72. Mark O’Meara also withdrew, after shooting an opening-nine 38. O’Meara, who was spotted limping after hitting a drive on No. 4, cited plantar fasciitis, a painful heel condition.
An impressive streak ended Thursday for Brad Faxon. The two-time Champions Tour winner from Rhode Island didn’t have a three-putt on tour for 281 consecutive holes, the longest streak this season.
It ended when Faxon took three putts on the seventh hole, making a double bogey. Faxon, who will be part of the Fox Sports broadcast team for next week’s US Open, shot a 74 . . . Fellow Rhode Islander Billy Andrade birdied No. 18 to shoot 70 . . . Bob Gilder has now appeared in 71 straight Champions Tour major championships. He has played in every one since joining the tour in 2001 . . . Five eagles were made in the first round, all on par-5 holes. They came at the 536-yard fourth hole (Tom Pernice Jr., Joey Sindelar), the 565-yard ninth (John Huston), and 501-yard 17th (Russ Cochran, Scott Dunlap). The fourth hole played the easiest, to a 4.494 stroke average (two eagles, 40 birdies, 37 pars, one bogey, one double). The hardest hole was No. 16, a 411-yard par-4 that saw only four birdies and played to a 4.313 average . . . Spectators can enroll in TSA Pre between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the tournament, by bringing a passport or birth certificate, one additional government-issued form of identification, and the registration fee of $85. A booth is set up to the right of the second fairway, in the tournament’s Exposition Village.