See that picture above? That's not the way you saw Rocky and Creed after their first fight, or the Bears and Yankees at the end of the first "Bad News Bears." ...
The comparisons are not out of left field -- or a left bunker, since we're talking golf. The Bears, you will remember, lost the big game. Rocky Balboa lost a split decision in the first "Rocky" movie. And Rocco Mediate, in spite of noble effort and grit, finally lost to Tiger Woods -- after 91 holes. Maybe not a split decision, but an astounding fight.
Mediate also recalled the Bears and Rocky in his sheer love of the game. Don't forget that the emotional turning point in the first "BNB" comes when Buttermaker (so superbly played by Walter Matthau) realizes that there's no real victory if you have lost the joy of playing. It was amazing to see Mediate striding down Torrey Pines, chatting up a reporter or putting his arm someone, just loving the moment while Tiger walked, if not alone on the course, alone in his thoughts and his will. Mediate said after Sunday's round that he couldn't root for Tiger to miss the tying putt. That's not how he played. Even if he lost with a couple of disastrous shots on the 91st hole, he did so in a way that was -- well, it was kind of "Tin Cup," wasn't it? No laying up, no laying back, just refusing to bend to the indomitable indifference that is a golf course.
But I come back to that picture above because it points to the crucial difference between the U.S. Open and those movies I have mentioned. In the movies, it wasn't enough to have a noble underdog. The champion had to be unworthy in some way -- merciless and joyless in "BNB," a cynical showman in "Rocky." They win because life is unfair, but the underdog is more deserving.
And there was nothing unworthy about Woods. He fought a painful knee, he stared at defeat and climbed back into contention, and he left everything he had on the course. When Tiger talked after the fight about not wanting to play for awhile, you knew he had spent himself over those five long, hard days of golf. Tiger deserved to win. Rocco also deserved to win. Too bad golf doesn't allow a moment like the one in "Searching for Bobby Fischer": take the draw, share the championship. But at the end, you had two guys who had given us astonishing entertainment, and a view of what men do when they love their work.