Rocco, Dudley, Carl and Woody. What's this, another boy band? No,
a boy band would have a Lance and a couple of J.J.'s. Actually,
Mediate, Hart, Paulson and Austin, respectively, were among the
players who finished ahead of Tiger Woods at the Buick Open--not
that anyone noticed.
For instance, the final pairing last Saturday featured Mediate
and the tournament leader, the lovable Austin. (He's the former
bank teller who once whacked a putter against his head so hard
that the shaft bent over his skull in cartoonish fashion.)
Anyway, Woods and Phil Mickelson had teed off 2 1/2 hours ahead
of the leaders, and about half the estimated crowd of 50,000 at
Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club swarmed after them. "I
looked over at the 7th hole and saw about 100 people following
Woody," said Brad Faxon. "Over on 16, there were like 200,000
people following Tiger. I thought, Well, Tiger was on the cover
of TIME magazine this week. Woody could be on the cover of
The Buick Open was Tiger's tournament because the fans in the
Flint, Mich., area were thrilled just to get a glimpse of the
man they believe invented golf. "He's so good-looking," gushed
Tracy Jamieson, a middle-aged woman from Toledo, as Woods
whisked past to the 1st tee. "I'd break every rule for him."
When Woods committed to play in early July, huge billboards
sprung up around Flint featuring Woods's face along with the
words LOOK WHO'S COMING TO THE BUICK OPEN, and tickets sold
faster than Britney Spears CDs.
Woods was the biggest thing to hit town since, well, since Woods
played in the '98 Buick Open. This time was different, though. In
'98 Woods was still tinkering with his swing and had won only one
major. This year he came in as the reigning U.S. and British Open
champ making a pit stop on the way to Valhalla and the history
books, and no one cared that he finished a distant 11th. "He's
the most famous person in the world," says Paul Goydos, who was
paired with Woods on Sunday and shot a disappointing 74. "It was
almost as if the Pope had come to Flint."
Mediate, who has overcome a severe back injury that required
surgery in 1994 and wields a long putter, was the Buick Open's
surprise winner when he attained a reversal on the 72nd hole,
making a birdie while the leader, playing partner Chris Perry,
made a bogey. Even Mediate understood why his fourth Tour victory
was low profile. "I'd watch Tiger, too," he said not long after
he had holed a 12-footer for the win. "He's the best player I'm
going to see in my lifetime. Yesterday there was nobody following
Woody and me in the last group. I mean, it's not like we suck."
Austin would beg to differ. He is the polar opposite of Woods in
almost every way. "I'm 12 years older than Tiger, and it seems as
if he's played golf 12 years longer than I have," says Austin,
who's 36. Woods was a phenom at age two. Woody didn't pick up a
club until he was 13 and "was lucky to break 90 when I was 14,"
he says. There's more. Woods won three straight U.S. Juniors (the
accomplishment he is most proud of), three straight U.S. Amateurs
and an NCAA title before turning pro. Woody never played big-time
amateur golf. "I never went to an out-of-town tournament until I
was 16," he says.
Woods played his way onto the Tour when he was 20. Woody finally
made it when he was 31. Woods has never had a job. Austin worked
as a teller at a credit union in Tampa by day and stocked
shelves at a drugstore at night. Later, Austin gave up the
stock-boy gig for weekend bartending, cut back to three shifts
at the credit union and played the mini-tours on Mondays and
Tuesdays. He made it through Q school in 1994 and was the Tour's
rookie of the year in '95, when he won the Buick Open. Austin
lost his card in '97, a year that got off to a bad start when he
bought glasses that had the wrong prescription, and was sent
down to the Nike tour. He clawed his way back to the big Tour
Let's go to the stats. Woods has made 53 straight cuts, tying the
fifth longest streak in Tour history. (Byron Nelson holds the
record with 113 straight). Woody has missed 54 cuts in the last
3 1/2 seasons. The Masters is the only major that Woods hasn't won
so far this season. The U.S. Open is the only major that Woody
has played this year. He tied for 37th, but after a third-round
78 said, "I should quit. I certainly don't belong out here."
Woods's average drive is 20 yards longer than Woody's, and
Woods's scoring average is 3.48 strokes lower (that's 14 shots in
a tournament). Career money? Woods has made about $17.1 million
in four years. Woody has earned $2.1 million in six.
Then there's the way they play the game. Woods's technique is
textbook perfect and honed by coach Butch Harmon. Woody's swing
is stiff-looking and self-taught. Austin seldom uses a tee.
Instead, he kicks up a piece of turf and places his ball on it.
"Johnny Miller once said that Colin Montgomerie is the best in
the world at hitting a driver off the deck," says Tim Mork,
Austin's caddie. "Set up the pay-per-view and bring him on. I'll
back Woody against anyone."
Woods may be the best putter on Tour. Woody is among the worst.
He was ranked 176th out of 192 players before the Buick but tried
a cross-handed grip on Thursday and needed only 22 putts. He made
11 birdies and shot a nine-under 63. "That was a dream putting
round, my best by a landslide," Austin said. "I know I'm never
going to be Loren Roberts; I've never even cracked the top 150 in
the putting stats. I'm not greedy; I'd just like to be 80th.
Tiger said he couldn't make a putt with a Seeing Eye dog at the
Western Open. You don't know what bad putting is until you do it
for a long period of time, not just one week in between winning
Woods is the model of confidence and a positive thinker. Woody,
to borrow from Spiro Agnew, is a nattering nabob of negativism.
Austin constantly talks to himself and to his ball during a
round, and usually it's not a friendly conversation. On Sunday he
could be heard chiding himself, saying, "When are you going to
hit it like a man and not a mouse?" On Saturday, as he was losing
his two-shot lead while shooting a nervous 73, he called himself
a choking dog, which prompted Mork, who tries to get Austin to
lighten up, to go to CB mode. "Choking Dog, Choking Dog, this is
Positive Attitude," he squawked into a cupped hand. "Can you read
The ploy was a temporary success, but after the round Austin, who
had fallen two strokes behind Perry, gave this self-analysis:
"What I did was, I choked. I absolutely choked. I know who I am.
I'm a chump."
While Woods confidently looked ahead to Valhalla, Woody looked
forward to next year with relief. The $118,800 he won for his tie
for fifth at the Buick assured him that he'll be exempt for 2001.
"I'm ecstatic that my job is secure, but I'm still very
disappointed with the way I played on the weekend," Austin said.
"People can say, 'Geez, you haven't played a good tournament in
four years. You should be happy.' To me, shooting only one under
par on the weekend stinks." Still, Austin did finish two shots
ahead of Woods, which cheered him not at all. "Somebody will just
say he had his F game or something," he said.
About that time Austin heard the roar coming from the 18th green
after Mediate's clutch putt put him in a tie for the lead. It was
followed a few moments later by a groan--Perry had failed in his
try to force a playoff. It was quarter to six. Woods's jet was
already en route to Orlando. On Tuesday he was to fly to
Woody didn't qualify for the PGA, but having played eight of the
last 10 weeks, he was happy to be heading home to Lee's Summit,
Md. "I'm going to go home and not worry," he said, working up a
smile. "I'm free for the rest of the year."
Then he turned and walked toward the clubhouse. Not that anyone
asked to analyze the third round. "I know who I am. I'm a chump."