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There's no need to fear, underdog

He had his chance. In the end, that's all any underdog can ask.

So while today's headlines will trumpet "Tiger," I'd like to talk about Rocco. As in Rocco Mediate, second-place finisher in the 108th U.S. Open, first-place finisher in the Underdog of the Year contest.

Even if you're not a golf fan, you've got to like the guy because he's one of us. An Average Joe (even if his name is anything but average) with a talkative nature and a bad back who got his shot at glory, coming up just short against Tiger Woods, the "best player on earth," as Mediate called him.

At age 45, Mediate would have become the oldest U.S. Open champion, and one of the most unlikeliest. He would have been the people's champion for sure. A player who represents every guy who has put in his years of service, just waiting for that big break.

Ranked 157th in the world entering the tournament, held at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Rocco gave Tiger all he wanted and then some, that in itself a triumph for Average Joes everywhere.

And in the process, this underdog helped the superstar cement his legend, forcing Woods to make a birdie putt on the final hole of regulation Sunday. That forced an 18-hole playoff Monday, where Woods was again forced to rally at the 18th hole before finally winning the marathon battle against Mediate on the first sudden-death hole, the 19th of the day and 91st of the tournament.

That's a lot of golf, and Monday's telecast served as a five-hour commercial for the American underdog as Mediate went up, got down and battled back against the pre-eminent player of his (and maybe any) generation. Mediate's tournament was a smorgasbord of every lesson a self-help guru would teach: anything can happen; don't give up; you're never too old; trust yourself; you can be the best.

I've always liked underdogs, and you can't help but like a guy named Rocco. But I have to admit, as Tiger stood over his final putt Sunday I was rooting for him to make it. And then he did, and I wish I hadn't.

Because rooting for Tiger is like rooting for a corporation. Actually, with his money, it's exactly like rooting for a corporation. And who roots for Home Depot over Bob's Hardware, McDonald's over Mack's Tavern or Wal-Mart over anybody?

So give Tiger his due, but salute the bad-backed, hard-working underdog as well. And next time you feel like the odds are against you, step up, take your best shot and embrace your inner Rocco.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.