A few years ago the GGO lost its O, but the tournament's new title, the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, reinforces how important driving is at the host course, Forest Oaks Country Club, a tight layout all the more claustrophobic for its towering trees. On Sunday, Rocco Mediate beat his playing partner, Mark Calcavecchia, by shooting a 71 in tough conditions, a round keyed by relentlessly accurate tee shots. It was the fifth victory of Mediate's career, and it bolstered his case as a dark horse at a tournament that still rates a capital O-the U.S. Open.
With the $684,000 payday, Mediate, 39, is now sixth on this year's money list, an early-season surge that began with third-place finishes at Bay Hill and the TPC at Sawgrass, a pair of brutal setups with faster greens and harder fairways than anything seen at Augusta National this year. Forest Oaks was a sterner test than usual because of what Calcavecchia called "eight-inch rough." He was exaggerating only slightly. "I remember Scott Hoch bitching about a lack of rough last year," Calc said. "We all have him to thank for this U.S. Open stuff we're hacking out of this week."
Or, in Mediate's case, avoiding. Fourteenth in driving accuracy coming into Greensboro, he missed only three fairways on Sunday—compared with seven for Calc—and was flawless coming down the stretch. "They were the best driver swings I have ever made in that type of situation," Mediate said. "I didn't have much else going for me out there, but I brought it in."
With his high-waisted trousers and insouciant manner, Mediate comes off as a dandy, not surprising since his father, Tony, owns a beauty salon in the Pittsburgh suburb of Greens-burg. But under pressure Rocco is as solid as a rock. At the 1999 Phoenix Open, Mediate played the final 36 holes with Tiger Woods—and toughed out a two-stroke victory.
With his pinpoint driving, towering iron play and proficiency on brutal courses, Mediate has the perfect game for the U.S. Open, and he made a major breakthrough last year, finishing fourth, two strokes out of the playoff between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. The momentum was lost three weeks later when he hurt his back at the British Open, the latest ding in a career slowed by injuries. However, the ensuing time off may have been a blessing, because it inspired Mediate to radically change his workout routine. After years of lifting heavy metal, he has ditched the weights and begun doing Pilates, a nonimpact strengthening workout he heard about from his wife, Linda (a onetime manicurist at the family beauty salon). "It keeps me loose, keeps me fresh, keeps me strong," he says.
Mediate will have to be all of that and more to prevail at the Open in June, but he's already steeling for battle. "Winning it is definitely a goal of mine," he says. "When you get in contention in one, that makes you believe you can get it done in another."
Or, as his caddie, Pete Bender, says, "Rocco is ready to hang with the big boys."