Rocco, Dudley, Carl and Woody. What's this, another boy band? No, a boy band would have a Lance and a couple of J.J.'s. Actually, Mediate, Hart, Paulson and Austin, respectively, were among the players who finished ahead of Tiger Woods at the Buick Open—not that anyone noticed.
For instance, the final pairing last Saturday featured Mediate and the tournament leader, the lovable Austin. (He's the former bank teller who once whacked a putter against his head so hard that the shaft bent over his skull in cartoonish fashion.) Anyway, Woods and Phil Mickelson had teed off 2� hours ahead of the leaders, and about half the estimated crowd of 50,000 at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club swarmed after them. "I looked over at the 7th hole and saw about 100 people following Woody," said Brad Faxon. "Over on 16, there were like 200,000 people following Tiger. I thought, Well, Tiger was on the cover of TIME magazine this week. Woody could be on the cover of Psychology Today."
The Buick Open was Tiger's tournament because the fans in the Flint, Mich., area were thrilled just to get a glimpse of the man they believe invented golf. "He's so good-looking," gushed Tracy Jamieson, a middle-aged woman from Toledo, as Woods whisked past to the 1st tee. "I'd break every rule for him." When Woods committed to play in early July, huge billboards sprung up around Flint featuring Woods's face along with the words LOOK WHO'S COMING TO THE BUICK OPEN, and tickets sold faster than Britney Spears CDs.
Woods was the biggest thing to hit town since, well, since Woods played in the '98 Buick Open. This time was different, though. In '98 Woods was still tinkering with his swing and had won only one major. This year he came in as the reigning U.S. and British Open champ making a pit stop on the way to Valhalla and the history books, and no one cared that he finished a distant 11th. "He's the most famous person in the world," says Paul Goy-dos, who was paired with Woods on Sunday and shot a disappointing 74. "It was almost as if the Pope had come to Flint."
Mediate, who has overcome a severe back injury that required surgery in 1994 and wields a long putter, was the Buick Open's surprise winner when he attained a reversal on the 72nd hole, making a birdie while the leader, playing partner Chris Perry, made a bogey. Even Mediate understood why his fourth Tour victory was low profile. "I'd watch Tiger, too," he said not long after he had holed a 12-footer for the win. "He's the best player I'm going to see in my lifetime. Yesterday there was nobody following Woody and me in the last group. I mean, it's not like we suck."
Austin would beg to differ. He is the polar opposite of Woods in almost every way. "I'm 12 years older than Tiger, and it seems as if he's played golf 12 years longer than I have," says Austin, who's 36. Woods was a phenom at age two. Woody didn't pick up a club until he was 13 and "was lucky to break 90 when I was 14," he says. There's more. Woods won three straight U.S. Juniors (the accomplishment he is most proud of), three straight U.S. Amateurs and an NCAA title before turning pro. Woody never played big-time amateur golf. "I never went to an out-of-town tournament until I was 16," he says.
Woods played his way onto the Tour when he was 20. Woody finally made it when he was 31. Woods has never had a job. Austin worked as a teller at a credit union in Tampa by day and stocked shelves at a drugstore at night. Later, Austin gave up the stock-boy gig for weekend bartending, cut back to three shifts at the credit union and played the mini-tours on Mondays and Tuesdays. He made it through Q school in 1994 and was the Tour's rookie of the year in '95, when he won the Buick Open. Austin lost his card in '97, a year that got off to a bad start when he bought glasses that had the wrong prescription, and was sent down to the Nike tour. He clawed his way back to the big Tour last year.
Let's go to the stats. Woods has made 53 straight cuts, tying the fifth longest streak in Tour history. ( Byron Nelson holds the record with 113 straight). Woody has missed 54 cuts in the last 3� seasons. The Masters is the only major that Woods hasn't won so far this season. The U.S. Open is the only major that Woody has played this year. He tied for 37th, but after a third-round 78 said, "I should quit. I certainly don't belong out here." Woods's average drive is 20 yards longer than Woody's, and Woods's scoring average is 3.48 strokes lower (that's 14 shots in a tournament). Career money? Woods has made about $17.1 million in four years. Woody has earned $2.1 million in six.
Then there's the way they play the game. Woods's technique is textbook perfect and honed by coach Butch Harmon. Woody's swing is stiff-looking and self-taught. Austin seldom uses a tee. Instead, he kicks up a piece of turf and places his ball on it. " Johnny Miller once said that Colin Montgomerie is the best in the world at hitting a driver off the deck," says Tim Mork, Austin's caddie. "Set up the pay-per-view and bring him on. I'll back Woody against anyone."
Woods may be the best putter on Tour. Woody is among the worst. He was ranked 176th out of 192 players before the Buick but tried a cross-handed grip on Thursday and needed only 22 putts. He made 11 birdies and shot a nine-under 63. "That was a dream putting round, my best by a landslide," Austin said. "I know I'm never going to be Loren Roberts; I've never even cracked the top 150 in the putting stats. I'm not greedy; I'd just like to be 80th. Tiger said he couldn't make a putt with a Seeing Eye dog at the Western Open. You don't know what bad putting is until you do it for a long period of time, not just one week in between winning majors."