MONTREAL — In the original Cinderella story, she wore a glass slipper. In the Presidents Cup Cinderella story, Woody Austin wore a flipper. Or, at least, he should have.
No matter what else happened this weekend, no matter what other heroics took place, the 2007 Presidents Cup will always be remembered as the Woody Austin Presidents Cup.
You can forget about the video footage of Austin banging a putter so hard over his head that it bent around his skull, an incident that has had a life of its own. Woody finally did something better — OK, funnier.
If you haven’t already seen the Presidents Cup highlights from Friday, watch them here. Austin took off his shoes and socks and waded into a pond by the 14th green to attempt to hit his ball out of the water. He flailed, missed the ball, lost his balance and fell backward, then turned and did a face-plant into the lake, submerging for several seconds.
“I was pleased to see him come up,” joked Gary Player, the International team captain. “I was dying to laugh but I was scared there was a camera on me when a guy was drowning.”
The American team has a new folk legend — the Woodman. Or, take your pick of the potential new nicknames — Aquaman, Jacques Costeau, Titanic, Jumpin’ Jack Splash, Nemo. Woody’s water-fall was only half of the story. The American duo lost that hole, but with the match on the line, Austin toweled himself off and fought back. He made clutch birdie putts on the last three holes as he and David Toms salvaged half a point against Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini in the last match of Friday’s best-ball round.
It was Woody’s world this week. The rest of us were merely treading water in it.
“You know there’s going to be goggles or flippers or a snorkel on his door in the morning,” Jack Nicklaus, the American captain, said after the incident. “The other guys aren’t going to let him forget it.”
After his stumble, Austin sat down, dried off, put his socks and shoes back on and laughed it off. He didn’t care that he had just starred in a permanent comic highlight film. All he cared about was winning a point, or half a point. All he cared about was the next four holes and helping his team.
“I have a feeling he’s going to be hearing about that for the rest of his life,” Nicklaus said.
Steve Stricker and Scott Verplank, playing in one of the other four-ball matches, enjoyed a light moment when they watched Austin’s dive replayed on one of the on-course scoreboards.
“Scotty and I were watching the big screen TV when we saw this replay, and we didn’t know who it was because we couldn’t see his face under the water, but I swear to God, we both said, ‘That’s gotta be Woody,’ ” Stricker said.
Verplank said: “Well, there were two highlights of the day. The first was when Woody went underwater. We were on the 16th tee and that loosened us up and Steve made a birdie there. Woody’s effect was far reaching, not only the great golf he played. I watched his last few holes; it was pretty spectacular.”
The ballad of Woody Austin is only going to grow. He is 43, and this was his first time playing for his country in an international competition. He’s a late bloomer of gigantic proportions. He once worked as a bank teller in the Tampa area but was drawn into golf because of his remarkable ball-striking skills. You saw it Friday, when Austin made eight birdies. The man can play. He proved it once again at the PGA Championship when he went head-to-head with Tiger Woods and held his own, finishing second.
The best thing about Austin’s spill, besides the fact that he didn’t lose the match, was how well he took the subsequent ribbing. He wasn’t embarrassed. He was too busy trying to win the match. He laughed it off as he was removing his wet clothing. And he even donned a pair of goggles during Sunday’s singles matches.
“Well, I don’t think I look any worse than I always do,” he said. “Scotty says I smell different, though.”
Austin’s desire was a hard-and-fast quantity that the American team rallied around all week.
“I know there’s nobody that wants to be here any worse than I do,” Austin said. “It’s taken me so many roads to get here. I’ve come from as far back and you can possibly come from to get here, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I have the mentality that I will do anything I can for my teammates. I hope I proved today that I’m never going to give up until it’s over.”
The new legend of the Woodman at the Presidents Cup will live for a long time. Perhaps as long as the video footage of the most famous splashdown since Apollo 13.