‘Aquaman’ moment doesn’t define Austin

MARANA, Ariz.   Woody Austin admits it. The “Aquaman” jokes and shout-outs, funny as they were in the beginning, are starting to wear a little thin.

In the first few months after he did an unintended belly flop into a lake at the Presidents Cup last fall and then secured his nickname for all time by donning snorkeling goggles provided by Captain Jack Nicklaus, Austin relished the attention.

For a career-long grinder to finally be noticed, and accepted, by both his American peers and the golfing public was a gift for the 44-year-old journeyman.

That said, there are only so many times he can stomach hearing some guy in the gallery shout “Where are your goggles!”

“If somebody can throw a spin on it here and there, that’s fine,” Austin said after he beat Boo Weekley 3 and 2 Friday to advance to the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Gallery Golf Club. “But there’s one hole with water on this golf course. One! To be told, ‘Stay away from the water!’ for 4½ hours, that’s where it gets … “

Austin shrugs, resigned to be teased for the rest of his life. “It’s fun,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Austin wants to be remembered for his golf game, too. It’s hard to ignore at this point.

Twenty years after turning pro, the guy who spent some of his golf down time as a credit union teller finally had his breakthrough season in 2007. He won the Stanford St. Jude Championship in June with a spectacular closing round of 62, finished second behind Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship, and was the emotional center of the winning U.S. Presidents Cup team.

Five months after making a splash in Canada, Austin is excelling in match play, having reached the quarterfinals of the Accenture in his first appearance. Austin routed Toru Taniguchi 6 and 5 on the first day, beat sweet-swinging Adam Scott in 19 holes in the second round, and took advantage of the bad putting by his friend, Weekley, in the third round.

He has earned a match Saturday against defending tournament champion Henrik Stenson, who is trying to become the first player since Woods in 2003-04 to win back-to-back Match Plays.

Austin is working to grab the attention of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger. Austin is 13th in the current U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with only eight golfers automatically qualifying for the team come August.

“Hopefully,” Austin said, “I’ll just keep advancing and showing him what I’ve said all along – match play fits my personality, and I like it.”

The fire that so suits him in the head-to-head format has often been his cross to bear in stroke play. Before last season, he was better known for his self-flagellating antics. He gave himself no mercy, acted as if every missed putt was the one that lost the tournament. He once broke a putter over his head, a move that, before the belly flop, became his signature.

Austin has acknowledged his temper, but railed against those who believe that it defines him.

“I’m sorry to say it, but our best player in the world gets darned upset when he’s winning by 12. Seems to do him OK,” Austin said here. “It’s your personality, it’s your physical makeup. You’ve got to deal with it the best way you can.”

He believes he is still fighting for legitimacy, even if it’s in his own mind. He has played full time on the tour for 13 consecutive complete seasons and hasn’t finished out of the top 78 on the money list since 2002. But three wins and 38 top-10 finishes over that time aren’t nearly good enough for him.

“I have not accomplished near what I should have or planned to accomplish,” Austin said. “So from that standpoint, I still have a long way to go. If I wasn’t so hard on myself, and I didn’t push myself, I would have never have made it.”

Even the tremendous ’07, which could prove to be the greatest year of his career, has its blemishes for him.

“It wasn’t an awesome year,” Austin argued, “because four months is not a year. … Obviously, I’m not going to be Tiger. But I want a year to be a year. I want it to start and end as consistently as I possibly can. Until I do that, then I’m not going to feel as though I’ve accomplished what I’m trying to accomplish.”

Tod Leonard is the golf writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune