Written under the nom de plume, M.L. Gneier
Watching Woody Austin during his post round news conference made me wish that I had been there to articulate his major point. What he said was that he'd outplayed Tiger Woods on Friday but had been outscored. Now, that's a pretty easy problem to grasp whether you're talking about a tour pro or the hacker playing out of your fairway: Hitting the ball and scoring are sometimes two very different things.
But, I think that Woody Austin had a more important thought that he just didn't quite articulate. He said that after the second round the press reported how great Tiger Woods had played and that he was basically toying with the field. I think that what Austin was really trying to point out was just how difficult it is not only to play against the best player of our era but also to have the voices of the press so consistently piling on the heavy superlatives whether deserved or not.
No one who has ever seen a golf ball can deny the supremacy of Tiger Woods. But, how does one quantify the influence of a golf press that is so bent on making sure each good shot is perceived as a great one? When Woods missed a pretty easy par putt on the back nine Sunday, one of the announcers said, "That just doesn't happen." as if the network style guide stated that Woods was always to be portrayed as infallible, even if he wasn't. But, when Woody Austin faced a par putt of similar length, the announcers groaned, kindly helping the TV audience anticipate that Austin likely wasn't likely up to the challenge.
Tour players are men of immense talent but fragile egos. It is easy to lose site of just how much their games ride on the razor's edge of their own sense of place within the tour's food chain. Woody Austin did four things of note this week: He breathed on a leading Tiger Woods in a way that the Mickelsons, Furyks, Els and Sings of the tour have not done, ever. Austin also finished in second alone, making a gutsy par on the 72nd hole for what was also his first top 10 finish in a major. Woody also catapulted himself on the President's Cup team, a thrill which I am sure has yet to sink in for Austin. Most importantly, Woody Austin, maybe, possibly, held a mirror up to the golf press that might, in some small way, help them see just how much they in their supposedly unbiased reportage works to elevate the perception of Tiger Woods from player to a golfing deity. Tiger Woods is the best, but there are others on the course as well. Congratulations, Woody Austin, and thanks for reminding us.