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Mediate in contention heading into final day

| Saturday, June 16, 2001

TULSA, Okla. - Several times over the past couple of years, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III have been asked if they felt unlucky playing in the era when Tiger Woods dominates the game.

They all offered token denials to those questions, but common sense dictates that they believe otherwise.

And for all of those who have been waiting for a chance to win a major with Woods being only a fringe threat (he's nine shots back at plus-4), well, here's your chance.

The 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club has developed into a old-fashioned shootout in the Sooner state and guess who's one of the guys loaded for bear with 18 holes to play•

Greensburg native Rocco Mediate shot the round of the day Saturday, firing a 3-under 67 that has him a stroke out of the lead going into today's final round.

Mediate is trailing Stewart Cink and Retief Goosen, who are 5-under, and he is tied with Mark Brooks and Sergio Garcia.

'I had a six-foot birdie putt this morning on 17 (when he finished his second round) and as I got over it, the stands were full but yet it was silent,' Mediate said. 'I couldn't believe what I wasn't hearing. I listened and enjoyed what I wasn't hearing. It was just so cool. That's when it hit me, 'This is the U.S. Open.''

It was a bizarre day for Mediate, who got up at 5 a.m. so he could be ready to play the final 4 &*#189; holes of his second round. He went back to the house he is renting with his family, relaxed and returned to the course for a 4:21 p.m. a tee time.

He played a steady front nine, making a 10-footer for birdie on No. 6 and turned at 2-under. He bogeyed 10, but came right back to knock in a six-footer for birdie at 11.

At the par-5 13th, his 4-iron approach shot into the green nailed a spectator right on the shin, raising a nasty welt. Mediate took advantage of the ball kicking back to the green to flop a pitch shot to four feet. After he made the putt to go to 3-under, he went back to the injured man.

'I said to him, 'Do you really want this• I know I wouldn't.' But the guy said he did, so I gave him the ball,' Mediate said. 'I felt bad for the guy, but he probably saved me a shot.'

He got a little lucky on his final birdie, watching in disbelief as his 30-foot putt disappeared into the hole on its final roll. Considering that only seven players are under par through three rounds, the fact that Mediate has made only five bogeys in three rounds is remarkable.

Mediate, who gave serious consideration to withdrawing before the start of the tournament Thursday due to a hip injury, almost tied for the lead, leaving a 20-footer on the lip, but settled for par.

His 67 was his best-ever in an Open, a round that was matched yesteday by Stewart Cink. Mediate also had the low round of the day at the Masters during the third round, shooting 66.

'It was a very, very exciting day,' Mediate, whose best previous finish was a tie for 25th at Baltusrol in 1993. 'I felt good all day, wasn't nervous or shaky, it was fun. I don't know that I've ever been in anything like (today) is going to be, but I can't wait. Anybody who tells you that this is just another tournament is lying to you. I want to try to win this thing (today).'

Mediate will be very close to the fire that consumes the final round of the U.S. Open, playing in the next-to-last group of the day with Sergio Garcia at 3:35 p.m.

In the final group will be Cink and Retief Goosen, who'll start at 3:45. Cink started the day at 2-under but fell to 1-over by making bogey on the first hole and double-bogey on the second.

He rallied to make four straight birdies to get back to 3-under and then added two more at the 13th and 15th holes to get to 5-under.

Goosen, one of the triumvirate of leaders after one round, did not join his partners in a fall from grace. He shot a 69, while Mark Brooks shot 70 and J.L. Lewis ballooned to a 77.

Phil Mickelson got off to the day's quickest start, making birdie on three of the first five holes, but once again, couldn't close the deal, bogeying two of the final five.

'I'm not a really big believer in 'I'm due for this,' ' said Mickelson, when asked if he thought he was due for a good Sunday. 'What I found is if you don't play well, if you don't make any putts, you're not going to win. I've been in contention a number of times this year, had a number of opportunities to win and I certainly feel comfortable being in this position. And I don't know who's up there (on the leaderboard), but I think I've had a few more chances this year to win and I'm going to take some knowledge from those experiences.'

Mediate hopes to draw from his 16 years on the PGA Tour as well. He's played in big tournaments, been in contention to win many times and he's won four times. He, like everyone else on the first page of the leaderboard with the exception of Paul Azinger, still is playing for his first major win.

Earlier this year, he was sixth going into the final round at the Masters and finished in a tie for 16th.

'(Today) is going to be about patience, hitting the balls into the fairways and onto the greens,' he said. 'Someone might shoot a 65 and I'll have no chance, but who knows about that. I'm trying to believe in how good I can play and if I do, I have a chance. I have the ability to do it, whether I do it or not is another thing.

'All I know is I have a chance to win the biggest tournament there is.'

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