US Stumbles Woody Makes a Splash

By Associated PressSeptember 28, 2007, 4:00 pm
MONTREAL -- Woody Austin took a plunge, then made sure the rest of the Americans didn't sink with him.
 
Austin provided comic relief that instantly became part of Presidents Cup lore when he lost his balance and fell face-first into the lake along the 14th fairway. But he picked himself up, dried himself off and found redemption with three straight birdies to earn an important halve on a day the International team dominated.
 
The International team won four matches to cut the Americans' lead to 7-5 after two days, and it was truly a team effort.
 
Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby led the way by handing Tiger Woods his worst loss in team competition, 5 and 4, although there wasn't much Woods and Jim Furyk could do. Singh holed out from a bunker and chipped in for eagle, Appleby made a long eagle putt at No. 12 and they combined to go 11 under through 14 holes.
 
Retief Goosen chipped in for par and Angel Cabrera made a 10-foot birdie on the 18th for a 1-up victory over Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan, the first match since 2003 in South Africa that the International team won on the 18th hole.
 
Geoff Ogilvy picked up another point with a 5-foot birdie on the 18th, right after Lucas Glover made a 15-foot birdie.
 
The cheers again belonged to Mike Weir, who made seven birdies as he and Ernie Els won on the 17th hole.
 
The jeers?
 
Those belonged to none other than Austin and his dive, which was shown on the large video screens across Royal Montreal, along with images of his own teammates doing everything they could to keep from laughing.
 
'You couldn't see who it was because his head was underwater,' Steve Stricker said after teaming with Scott Verplank to deliver the only U.S. victory. 'But you figured it had to be Woody.'
 
The enduring image of Austin used to be the time he walked off the green banging his putter against his head until it broke.
 
The highlight department just found a replacement.
 
'It's funny,' Goosen said as he watched the replay from behind the 16th. 'For years he was known as the guy who banged his head against his putter. And now he's the guy who banged his head against the water.'
 
The Canadian gallery hounded him the rest of the match, alternating chants of 'Marco' and 'Polo' down the 15th hole and screaming out, 'Get in the water!' when he hit a putt.
 
Austin got the last laugh.
 
Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman were 2 up with three holes to play when Austin hit 6-iron into 6 feet on the tough 16th for a birdie, then holed a 15-foot birdie on the next hole to square the match. With the pressure on, Austin's 5-iron from 193 yards on the 18th just cleared a ridge and settled 5 feet for the hole.
 
After Sabbatini made his birdie from 8 feet, Austin closed out the match with his third straight birdie.
 
That kept the score tight going into a pivotal round Saturday, with five matches in the morning and five in the afternoon.
 
It was embarrassing for Austin, sure, but it brightened an otherwise dreary day of clouds and International blue numbers on the board. The Americans went home with broad smiles, and Austin was laughing with them.
 
You might call it a ripple effect.
 
'His effects were far reaching,' Verplank said.
 
Even the International team joined in.
 
'Hey, Woody,' Singh said to him as they passed each other in the interview room. 'The Russian judge gave you an 8.'
 
Moments later, captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player huddled in a conference room to announce their foursomes pairings for Saturday morning. Nicklaus had the first pick for the second game -- Mickelson and Austin.
 
'I'm going with Phil Mickelson and Jacques Cousteau,' Nicklaus said.
 
All but forgotten by the plunge was another day of superb play from Austin, a 43-year-old former bank teller who has never played in a team event and is relishing every minute. He delivered the key putts in a halve on Thursday, and he was spectacular even soaking wet on a chilly afternoon, making eight birdies when his team needed them all.
 
It was the birdie he was trying to make that brought Austin so much attention.
 
The tees were moved up on the 14th hole so that it played 293 yards, and Austin pulled his tee shot just into the hazard. Sabbatini was on the green, David Toms already was in the water, and Austin figured he had no choice but to try to get somewhere near the green for a shot at birdie.
 
'I knew deep down I probably couldn't pull the shot off,' Austin said. 'I was doing OK until I stepped on the rock. And once I stepped on the rock, I lost my balance.'
 
He was falling backward, then turned his body and went for the belly flop.
 
'I don't think I look any worse than I always do,' Austin said.
 
But on a more serious note, Austin was never more proud of himself for the way he responded. Theirs was the final match. Toms and Austin had talked about the importance of salvaging something, and Austin delivered.
 
'I've never putted that good under those circumstances. But let's face it,' he said. 'I've never been in those circumstances before. I hope today proved that I'm never going to give up until it's over.'
 
The International team could say the same.
 
It was under stiff pressure starting the day five points behind, knowing that another American rout could put them in a deep hole.
 
Appleby and Singh, who were 0-1-1 against Woods and Furyk in 2005, came through in a huge way. It began on the opening hole when Singh knocked in a birdie from the bunker, and they never let up.
 
'It was their 'A' team and they've beaten us before,' Appleby said. 'We know what Tiger can do. If Jim was off his game, Tiger could beat us by himself.'
 
The other matches were close, but the International team never trailed on the back nine except for the Stricker-Verplank victory.
 
Related Links:
  • Scoreboard
  • Full Coverage - Presidents Cup
  • Getty Images

    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

    Getty Images

    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

    Getty Images

    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

    Getty Images

    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”