Now, if he can just get his golf game into shape as he did here a year ago hell have a chance.
Im not playing really bad, Austin said Wednesday after a practice round. But when I play well, I score terrible. When I play bad, I score worse. Its really just a matter of scoring. I think the best way to describe it is every bad swing is magnified and every good swing is unrewarded.
This year hasnt been that bad for Austin, not compared to how he came into this tournament at the TPC at Southwind course in 2007. A year ago, he had missed five cuts with his best finish a tie for 18th in New Orleans. This year, he has two Top 10s, tied for fourth in New Orleans and has missed only three cuts.
But there hasnt been a moment that stands out like finishing second to Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship by two strokes or falling face first into the water hitting a shot for the Americans at the Presidents Cup to help halve a match.
Asked to pin down his biggest problem, Austin said its been a combination of things.
As my caddie puts it, Im one foot on the wrong side of the ledger right now. Everything is one foot off the wrong way, Austin said.
Making that adjustment here in this U.S. Open warmup wont be easy.
Kenny Perry is here looking to string together consecutive wins for the first time since 2005 in his push make sure he doesnt miss playing for the United States in the Ryder Cup in his home state of Kentucky. He won at Memorial last week for his first win since 2005, when he won back-to-back, but this will be his seventh straight tournament.
My dad always said youve got to ride the train when its going, and he told me to run it to the ground until Im just mentally zapped and I feel the game going, Perry said. Even though Im mentally tired, I think I can go out there this week and play well.
The field features four others in the top 13 on this years money list, including Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Boo Weekly. Padraig Harrington, the 2007 British Open champ, is here along with David Toms, a two-time winner here, Retief Goosen, Masters champ Trevor Immelman and local favorite John Daly, whos enjoying a sponsor exemption.
This tournament moved to the week before the Open last year with a bigger payday thanks to new sponsor Stanford Financial Group and celebrates its 20th year at the TPC at Southwind by starting a new tradition. The winner will receive a new seersucker jacket with the $1.08 million check as this event joins six other other events in awarding jackets to their champions.
This course, redesigned after the 2004 event, is much tougher. The 2007 scoring average in 2007 was 2-over 72 with the par-4 No. 5 (44th) and par-3 No. 14 (30th) among the tours 50 toughest holes. No rain and winds gusting up to 35 mph have dried up the course, and its expected to stay windy, hot (90s) and dry through Sunday'a perfect mix for firm and fast greens.
But the rough, featuring Bermuda, isnt near as high as last week at Memorial.
You play well, you score well, Austin said. If you dont, its going to get you.
Austin found what he needed in 2007 on the final day, shooting a 62 that was the lowest finish of the year by a winner and the fifth-lowest finish by a winner since 1970.
If only it were that simple.
The hole you cant hit left will be the hole I hit it left, and the hole you cant hit it right will be the hole Ill hit it right. Im not getting away with nothing. Theres no in-between. Absolutely no in-between, Austin said. I have to either hit it just flawless or make everything I look at, and Im not doing either one.
Harrington is here trying to tune up his game and end what has become his traditional slump in May and early June. He missed the cut at this event last year in his first trip to this course and followed up by missing the cut a week later at the U.S. Open.
He knows hes a bit of a perfectionist but isnt quite sure why he has struggled at this point every year for about 20 years. But being on the course in a tournament is the best way he knows to try and snap out of any problems.
I find it gets my focus right so when I turn up at a major, Im ready to go. Im not trying to find anything that week, Harrington said.