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Austin's birdies result in crucial pick-me-up for U.S. team

9/28/2007 - Golf Woody Austin

MONTREAL -- Woody Austin produced quite a ripple effect.

The Americans were drowning in their fourball matches Friday in
the Presidents Cup when Austin became a symbol of their futility by
losing his balance and taking a face-first plunge into the lake
next to the 14th green at Royal Montreal.

Jim Furyk tugged his cap over his eyes. His partner, David Toms,
couldn't stop laughing.

"I'm dying to laugh, but I'm scared the cameras will be on me
that I'm laughing the guy is drowning," International captain Gary
Player said. "I thought, 'Damn, that water must be cold.' But I
was pleased to see his head come up."

But when his clothes dried and the laughter subsided, Austin
might have given the Americans the spark they needed.

From perhaps the most embarrassing moment of his career, Austin
redeemed himself by closing with three tough birdies to earn an
important halve on a day that the International team otherwise
dominated.

"I hope I proved today that I'm never going to give up until
it's over," Austin said.

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, topping the 15-foot birdie moments earlier from Lucas Glover.

The loudest cheers again belonged to Canadian star Mike Weir,
who delivered seven birdies and a clutch tee shot on the 17th hole
that allowed he and Ernie Els to close out their match.

The jeers belonged to Austin.

The lowlight was shown on large video screens across Royal
Montreal, along with images of his own teammates doing everything
they could to keep a straight face. Fat chance.

"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 good news for Austin?

That video from 10 years ago of Austin banging his putter
against his head until it snapped is now headed for storage. The
replacement highlight instantly became part of Presidents Cup lore.

"I have a feeling that he will be hearing about that for the
rest of his life," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said.

Don't get the idea Nicklaus was going to let this one slide
without piling on. When the captains huddled to announce their
foursome pairings for Saturday morning, Nicklaus announced that
Mickelson and Austin would be paired in the second match.

"I'm going with Phil Mickelson and Jacques Cousteau," he said.

Equally relentless were the Canadian fans. They hounded him the
rest of the match, alternating chants of "Marco" and "Polo"
down the 15th fairway, and screaming out "Get in the water!" when
Austin hit a putt.

"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."

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.

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."

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, 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."