If Duval can notch a win down the stretch, he will not only erase any doubts about being a complete player but will also almost surely end the debate over who is Rookie of the Year.
By virtue of having played just one Tour event before 1995, Albert Wood Austin is the truest rookie of the bunch. Austin, 31, graduated from Miami in 1986. He was a two-time All-America focused on one thing: success on the PGA Tour. He never imagined it would be so long in coming. "I always told people, 'When I make it to the Tour, I'm going to stay,' " says Austin. "The hard part, I found out, was getting here."
A big understatement. In 1987 Austin tore ligaments in his left knee before the final stage of Q school. The injury necessitated 18 months of rehab and sent Austin's golf game into hibernation. Gradually he began to practice and play the mini-tours, all the while supporting himself by working as a teller at the GTE Federal Credit Union, as a clerk on the graveyard shift at an Eckerd Drugstore and as a bartender and pro-shop attendant. The turning point came in 1992 when Austin was introduced to Shannon Henderson, whom he married a year later. "She's my wife, my agent, my best friend. I couldn't have made it without her," he says.
Last year Austin played the Nike tour. He finished 23rd on the money list, good enough to send him to the Q school finals, which he won. He has been cruising ever since.
At his first 1995 PGA Tour event, the Hawaiian Open, Austin birdied three of the last four holes of the second round to make the cut. In his second, at Tucson, he shot 13 under, finished sixth and cashed a check for $37,813. Overall he has played in 30 events, made 19 cuts and finished in the top 10 six times, including his win at the Buick Open last month.
Ball-striking is Austin's strength. He hits it crisp, long (eighth in driving distance) and, more often than not, close to the hole, a point proved by the fact that although he ranks 140th in putts per round, he's first in birdies, with 349. He's also a solid closer, having shot par or better in 14 of 19 final rounds. His weaknesses: putting and mental toughness. "Skillswise, I'm on top of things right now," says Austin. "The big difference between me and guys like Strange and Nicklaus and Kite is that they can hold it together when they're not going well."
Austin's solid performance on the Tour has gained him the respect of his peers, but he still gets little recognition outside the ropes. "Who the hell is Woody Austin?" a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel wrote this spring.
Whether or not writers or fans recognize his accomplishments doesn't bother Austin. He knows that unlike Leonard and Duval, he has held it together down the stretch and won a tournament. That feat outshines Duval's lead in earnings. In the end, greatness is judged not by how much cash a golfer has in the bank but by how many trophies he has on the shelf. That's why, so far, Woody Austin is our Rookie of the Year.