Woody Tried in Vain to Stare Down Woods

By Associated PressAugust 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- Woody Austin played better than Tiger Woods on Sunday. Again.
Didn't have to lug around that big old Wanamaker Trophy when the tournament was over, either.
Austin finished second in the PGA Championship, two strokes behind Woods after a final round in which he actually beat the world's best player by two.
Austin tied Woods on Saturday and was three shots better than him in the first round Thursday. Austin insists he outplayed -- his words -- Woods on Friday even though Woods tied the major scoring record with a 63. Austin said his 70 in the second round came only because he couldn't make a putt.
Revisionist history aside, it all added up to a two-stroke loss for the world's 75th-ranked player, which was still good for a $756,000 paycheck and a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
It was something to celebrate because of the way he held up throughout the tournament, especially on Sunday when the pressure was the greatest. And something to lament because maybe it should have been better.
'To go out and play and perform like I did, I've got only good thoughts for myself, praise for myself,' Austin said.
But, he said, 'I can't help but think of the missed opportunities. I'm human.'
This was the most interesting of coming-out parties for Austin, a 43-year-old who practically has the word 'journeyman' stamped on the back of his tropical-print golf shirts. He earned his third PGA Tour win this year. He had never finished higher than 16th in a major.
It was strange to listen to him all week talking about how he played better than Woods, how he was disappointed with his scores even though they were keeping him near the lead, how nobody can hit shots as good as he does when he's on.
Maybe the strangest part was how he went out and showed everyone what he was talking about Sunday.
In the second-to-last group, one hole ahead of Woods, Austin hit the ball straight and close to the pin to start the round -- a great way to overcome the jitters he fully expected.
He stayed within striking range, then really did make a move. Three straight birdies on 11, 12 and 13 pulled him within two strokes.
On 12, he chipped in from the front of the green and heard the biggest roar he'd ever experienced, tugging on his ear as he walked to the next tee box, asking for more.
'I wanted to hear them,' Austin said. 'You always hear it for (Woods) and you hear it for yourself but the decibels are different. I wanted to hear it for me. I wanted him to know there was someone else out there.'
That's how he is -- brash, unafraid. A bit nervous, too, but never willing to back down.
This week, he had the game to back up the talk.
'I think it's great how me and Ernie didn't just let him coast in,' Austin said, mentioning third-place finisher Ernie Els, who also kept things interesting. 'All you ever hear about is how unbeatable he is.'
There was a moment, ever so brief, when Austin actually had a chance to tie Woods late in the tournament. Woods had just three-putted on the 14th green. Austin had a 15-foot look at birdie on 15 and was trailing by one.
'I didn't know that,' Austin said.
He missed, and the rest of Woods' 13th major championship win would've been routine were it not for Austin's refusal to quit.
On No. 18, trailing by two, he pulled out the driver -- not the preferred play this week -- took a mighty rip, then let out an angry scream as the ball veered off to the right.
He saved par there, though, and walked into the clubhouse to watch Woods grind through the last hole.
At the end, Austin sounded as though he'd like this kind of challenge again someday. Maybe in the same group with Tiger instead of behind him.
'People always say, `Are you intimidated by him?'' Austin said. 'What, are we going to get in a fight? I'm not intimidated by him. I'm intimidated by the fact that I have a chance to win a golf tournament. I'm not intimidated by any other person. I'm intimidated by the golf.'
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