ATLANTA (AP) Even after the lowest 9-hole score of his career sent Tiger Woods to a 63 at easy East Lake and a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the Tour Championship, no one was conceding him the trophy.
Least of all, Woody Austin.
Austin is a 43-year-old former bank teller who has little in common with Woods except they once were the PGA Tour rookie of the year, Austin in 1995, Woods a year later. A superb ball-striker, Austin is not afraid to call it as he sees it, even if it can be hard to understand.
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Take last month in Tulsa.
Woods seized control of the PGA Championship in the second round at Southern Hills when he tied a major championship record with a 63 despite making pars on the final three holes, the last one catching 270 degrees of the lip. Imagine his surprise when Austin said the following day that he actually outplayed Woods in the second round, even though Austin shot 70.
The latest episode came Friday at East Lake.
Austin put together his second straight round of 65, soured slightly by missed birdie chances inside 10 feet on the final two holes, and he was most disappointed by the prospect of Woods building a big lead.
Turns out it was only three shots.
Woods, who raised hopes of a 59 after shooting 28 on the front nine, settled into mediocrity with par golf on the back for a 63 and went into the weekend at 13-under 127, breaking the 36-hole mark at the Tour Championship and his best start since he was at 125 after two rounds at Firestone in 2000. He went on to win that event by 11.
"He's just hard to catch," Austin said. "He's not hard to beat if you're playing as well and you're right there. But if you let him get in front of you, like I said, he's hard to catch."
Not hard to beat?
It was a surprising comment considering Woods has won three of his past four events, twice coming from behind in the final round. And it was unusual to hear because Woods is 65 under par since the British Open. Plus, he is 29-6 on the PGA Tour when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead. He hasn't spit up a weekend lead in three years.
It was reminiscent of Rory Sabbatini saying that Woods looked "beatable as ever" the week after Woods came from behind to beat Sabbatini in the final round of Wachovia. They played against each other again at Firestone, and Woods won again.
Told of Austin's comments Friday, Woods looked amused.
"Say that again?" he said.