Steelers QB fires 81, tops Jordan and Timberlake in U.S. Open Challenge
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hits out of a bunker during the U.S. Open Challenge on Bethpage State Park's Black Course on Friday in Farmingdale, N.Y.
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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- There was no need for any last-minute heroics, not like Super Bowl XLIII. There was no cause for a feverish flurry or fantastic finish, not like any of the six games last season when he rescued his team and engineered winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Instead, as easy as he picked apart the Arizona Cardinals in the final minute to give the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl trophy, that's how simple Ben Roethlisberger made it look when he handled the challenge of breaking 100 at Bethpage Black.
"I told you I'd do it," Roethlisberger said
He did it with ease, looking more like a U.S. Open participant than a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Despite getting a phone call Monday from Tiger Woods, telling him he had no chance of breaking 100, Roethlisberger won the U.S. Open Challenge yesterday, when he shot 11-over 81 on the same brutal course that will play host to the 109th U.S. Open starting Thursday, beating basketball great Michael Jordan by five shots with a round that included two triple bogeys and a double bogey.
"He played great," said his caddy, Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, the U.S. Open runner-up last year who had never met Roethlisberger until yesterday. "That course is hard. What'd he shoot -- 11 over? That's pretty good. He's very strong and he has a lovely putting stroke."
And, like he is accustomed to doing on the football field, Roethlisberger even wrapped it up in grand style, hitting an 8-iron from deep in the right bunker to 18 feet at the final hole that impressed even Mediate, a five-time PGA Tour winner.
"He wanted to hit 7-iron and I told him just rip an 8-iron at the pin," Mediate said. "You kidding me? I'd love a shot like that [in the U.S. Open]."
Roethlisberger nearly holed the birdie putt, even starting to backpedal like Woods did last year on the final-round putt that forced the 18-hole playoff with Mediate. At that point, though, it didn't matter.
Not only did Roethlisberger break 100, he bettered the low score of 84 posted in this event a year ago by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
"I came in with such high expectations," Roethlisberger said. "But, when Tiger called me the other day and said I had no chance, I got discouraged. But it wasn't as hard as I thought. I'm real happy."
Roethlisberger, a 3-handicap, shot 42 on the front that included a triple-bogey-8 at the par-5 fourth hole. He followed with a 39 on the back that included birdies at Nos. 10 and 15 -- the only birdies produced by any member of the celebrity foursome on the 7,426-yard, par-70 layout.
In each instance, Roethlisberger hit a 4-iron to set up the birdies, the latter coming from 201 yards in the right rough at the uphill 459-yard par 4.
"Maybe the best shot of my life," Roethlisberger said.
"That 4-iron on 15 was silly," Mediate said. "If I would have hit 4-iron there, I would have come up in the front bunker. I couldn't hit that shot. He's just so strong."
Roethlisberger, Jordan (86) and singer Justin Timberlake (88), a 6-handicap who shot 98 in the inaugural event a year ago, all broke 100 at Bethpage Black. The only exception was contest-winner Larry Geibelhausen, a Phoenix police lieutenant and 3-handicap who shot 101 after shooting 54 on the front and taking a 10 on the par-4 16th hole.
Even though the round took 6 hours, 20 minutes to complete, NBC will televise the event as a 90-minute special June 21 before the final round of the U.S. Open.
Roethlisberger said last week he thought he would have no problem breaking 100 because he can carry the ball with his driver between 270 and 280 yards -- distances that are needed to reach some of the fairways at Bethpage Black. But he started to have a few more doubts when Woods, the world's No. 1 player, phoned him after playing a practice round five days ago at Bethpage Black, saying the course was so tough he wouldn't break 100.
"I got to collect from Tiger," Roethlisberger said. "And I got to collect from Mike for the birdies."
Still, there were a few anxious moments.
After his approach from the right fairway bunker at No. 6 flew the green and landed on a downhill slope in the nasty rough, a fan said to Roethlisberger as he walked to his ball, "Ben, I'd love to be you, but not right now."
Replied Roethlisberger, "That's why I don't do this for a living."
At the 460-yard ninth, Roethlisberger pulled his tee shot deep into the trees, leaving him with little clear path to the green. As he surveyed his options, Anthony Kim, a three-time PGA Tour winner who was caddying for Timberlake, shouted, "Ben, go for it."
"I am going for it, A.K. -- out there," Roethlisberger said, pointing to an opening in the fairway where he punched his next shot.
It was one of the few times during the round he showed discretion. Most of the time, Roethlisberger let Mediate talk him into being aggressive, not laying up and firing at pins.
"Everything Mr. Ford told me to do," Roethlisberger said, referring to Oakmont professional Bob Ford, his coach for the event, "Rocco told me the opposite."
First Published June 13, 2009 12:00 am