Friday, September 28, 2007
Austin makes a splash -- in more ways than one
By Bob Harig Special to ESPN.com
MONTREAL -- The head-bashing video can be stored in the archives. We've got new material on Woody Austin, and it's safe to say this is the stuff of legend.
For as long as they show highlights, Austin will be a part of golf lore after the swan dive he took Friday at Royal Montreal Golf Club.
And what makes the story even better is the way he played at the Presidents Cup after emerging from the chilly pond near the 14th green soaked from head to toe.
Austin somehow shook off the embarrassment and the icicles to birdie the last three holes and get the Americans a much-needed half point.
"I hope I proved today that I'm never going to give up until it's over," Austin said. "At my age, being here for the first time, I know there is nobody who wants to be here more than I do."
Austin, 43, and his partner, David Toms, were 2-down with four holes to go against Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman after the hysterics at the 14th. So the tie they earned was huge when you consider that only one other U.S. team -- Steve Stricker and Scott Verplank -- managed a victory as the Internationals won four matches and closed the gap to 7-5 after two days.
Austin went headfirst into the water at No. 14, but came back with a vengeance.
For Austin, perhaps it was a fountain of youth.
"It was definitely a tension breaker," Toms said of Austin's plunge. "It was exactly what we needed. That's just going to add to his legacy."
It wasn't graceful, it wasn't planned, but it was pure Woody.
Admittedly a bit hard on himself at times, even Austin had to laugh when he fell into the water and soaked his head while trying to play a shot from near the bank. Rory Sabbatini was already on the green looking at an eagle putt, which is why Austin decided to go for it.
His tee shot had found the water and was several inches under the surface, but Austin figured he had nothing to lose, so he donned his rain gear, took off his socks and shoes, rolled up his pant legs and ventured in.
"The odds were not good, but my caddie kept saying, 'You gotta try, you gotta try, you gotta try,'" Austin said.
After getting a stance and taking a few waggles, Austin swung with all his might. The ball never did come out, but Austin, having lost his balance, staggered and fell face-first into the water. Only his hands kept him from being completely submerged.
And it didn't take long for the barbs to start coming. Video scoreboards dot the course, so spectators and players soon saw what had happened. Jim Furyk buried his face in his cap to hide the laughter. So did Tiger Woods.
"It's another chapter in Woodyism, I guess," Stricker said. "We were talking about getting him some flippers or some water wings to put in his locker."
When U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus announced the pairings for Saturday morning foursomes, he said that Phil Mickelson would be playing with "Jacques Cousteau."
"I hope he has a good time with it," Nicklaus said. "It's going to be with him for the rest of his life."
What should not be lost is the great golf Austin played in the four-ball competition. He made eight birdies on his own ball, including the clutch 4-footer at the last hole after Sabbatini had birdied in front of him.
"Bar none, I've never putted that good under those circumstances," he said. "Let's face it, I've never been in those circumstances before. I can't say I did anything better than that."
Austin, a three-time PGA Tour winner who is playing in his first Presidents Cup and finished second last month to Woods at the PGA Championship, has long lamented the highlight (or lowlight) for which he is most known. (At least it was the one he was most known for before Friday.)
Never adverse to slapping himself across the knee and whacking himself upside the head or even grunting at himself after a poor effort on the golf course, Austin went overboard a decade ago at Hilton Head. After mishitting a putt, Austin continually bashed his putter shaft over his head until it bent.
And he's been unable to live it down.
Now, at least, he's got something to rival it.
"I don't think it was really that hard for me because I laughed about it on the green," Austin said. "I can only tell you how much the competitive fire burns in me. It didn't douse it. I was still fired up and ready to go."
Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.