Woody Makes a Splash with the Public

By Associated PressOctober 2, 2007, 4:00 pm
MONTREAL -- Even as Woody Austin walked up the 14th fairway at Royal Montreal wearing a scuba mask, his family and friends back home in rural Kansas were making 'Aquaman' hats for a homecoming like no other.
 
He will never live this down.
 
And he has never lived it up quite like this.
 
Austin was either the toast of the Presidents Cup or the team mascot, but it was all good stuff.
 
The indelible image of his amazing week was Austin trying to hit a shot from the large pond left of the 14th fairway, failing miserably, then flailing his arms when he lost his balance and eventually plunging face-first into the drink.
 
Playing on his first national team, it was quite a baptism.
 
'I have a feeling that he will be hearing about that for the rest of his life,' U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said.
 
Maybe the story will be told about what followed, how he birdied the last three holes -- three of the toughest on the back nine at Royal Montreal, no less -- to earn a halve that was as improbable as the 43-year-old Austin even making this team.
 
Also forgotten was Thursday afternoon, when Austin twice made clutch par putts on the closing holes for another halve against Mike Weir and Vijay Singh that set the tone for American success.
 
It is not unusual for someone obscure to make such a splash (sorry, Woody) in these events, whether it was Peter Baker for Europe in the 1993 Ryder Cup or Kirk Triplett for the United States in the 2000 Presidents Cup.
 
But this was different.
 
It wasn't just one week at Royal Montreal, rather two months that changed his life.
 
'Woody Austin will have a gallery wherever he goes now,' Nicklaus said.
 
Until two months ago, Austin was the quintessential journeyman. He was 30 when he finally earned his PGA TOUR card as the medalist at Q-school. Before that, he toiled on the mini-tours and in Japan, worked as a bank teller in his native Tampa, Fla., and took one job stocking shelves at a drug store.
 
His victory at the Buick Open in 1995 was enough for him to beat out David Duval as PGA TOUR rookie of the year. He went another nine years before winning again, this time in Hartford. Otherwise, not many knew who he was except for the occasional display of his temper, which Austin might call a product of high expectations.
 
Sure, there was that incident at Hilton Head in 1997 when he got so mad that he smashed his putter against his head in rapid-fire succession until it broke (the putter, not his head). Any number of weeks, Austin would carry on loud and spirited conversations with himself about how the cards always seemed to be stacked against him.
 
Just look at him now.
 
Two months after he shot 62 to win the Stanford St. Judge Championship, Austin made a serious run at the PGA Championship, where he made as much news in front of microphone as he did on the golf course. He was lampooned for saying that he outplayed Tiger Woods the day Woods shot a record-tying 63 (Austin shot 70). But he finished second at Southern Hills, and that was enough for Austin to earn the 10th and final spot on the Presidents Cup team.
 
Then came the clutch putts, the comical plunge, the relentless ribbing and the instant celebrity.
 
'He worked so hard to get here. He's worked hard all his life,' his wife, Shannon, said as she watched him play his final match. 'You dream about moments like this, but when it happens, it just takes your breath away.'
 
Austin says he won't let it get to his head, and he figured the verbal abuse he took from his own teammates at Royal Montreal surely will keep him grounded.
 
'I'm the screwball no matter what,' he said.
 
But he also reflected on the relationships that were built at the Presidents Cup, and that seemed to mean more to him than anything. One week he was another face on the PGA TOUR, the next week he was in a circle of friends that included Nicklaus, Woods and Mickelson.
 
'If it all comes to a close for me at this juncture, I couldn't have asked for a better week,' Austin said. 'If it continues, I'm going to busy my butt to get into another one, because it's been a blast-and-a-half.'
 
He didn't lose until Sunday singles, but by then, he had earned more respect than he ever imagined. Nicklaus put him in the fifth match, privately hopeful that Austin would deliver the point that clinched the Presidents Cup.
 
The PGA TOUR is about to air a commercial that congratulates the U.S. team winning the cup, and it details a recipe for success that includes sportsmanship, competition, great shots and a splash of Woody.
 
Two months changed his life, but odds are it won't change Austin.
 
He leads a simple life in his adopted home of Derby, Kan., where he met his wife. She was a hairstylist whose client was trying to qualify for the Nike Tour event in town, so she went out to watch and was introduced to Austin. They have been together ever since.
 
'He always knew he could play the game at this level,' she said. 'It was just surreal sitting there with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. He's never had more fun than he's had this week.'
 
Austin isn't treated like a celebrity at home, not even in their bowling league. Shannon Austin isn't sure how much that will change, although with the 'Aquaman' hats, she didn't expect the ribbing to stop when he got home.
 
'I'm sure they'll have some fun with him,' she said.
 
Do they have a pool?
 
'No,' she said with a smile. 'But we have a pond.'
 
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    McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

    By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

    The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

    McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

    McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

    ''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

    Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

    ''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

    McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

    ''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

    ''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

    The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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    Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

    By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

    If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

    Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

    If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

    Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

    Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

    I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

    A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

    And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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    Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

    Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

    The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

    Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

    “I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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    Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

    Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

    Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.