HONOLULU, Hawaii - Woody Austin didn't make it to the PGA Tour until he was 30, and only then after a decade of playing mini-tours, working as a bank teller and even stocking shelves in a drug store. At least he gets to go out on his terms.
After more than two years of not having full status, the 49-year-old Austin appeared out of nowhere in Mississippi last summer and won the Sanderson Farms Championship. That got him back to Kapalua, which meant the world to him.
"Especially when you're about to turn 50 and have status," he said.
Austin turns 50 in three weeks, though he has no plans to play on the Champions Tour except for any major he gets in. Kapalua was just a start. Austin is most looking forward to the courses he was kept from playing when he lost his card — Bay Hill, Hilton Head, Colonial, Memorial.
"I don't plan on being one of those half guys," he said of splitting time on two tours. "If I don't get in the FedEx Cup (playoffs) and have six weeks off, then I'll go play some on the Champions Tour. But I want to play out here."
Austin lost his card in 2010 when he missed four cuts in his last seven events and finished at No. 129 on the money list. He got into only 18 tournaments the following year on conditional status, and only seven events in 2012 as a past champion.
His hallmark was ball-striking, and when that began to desert him, he was never very good with the putter (except for bashing it against his head, one of his more infamous moments) to atone for that. So what happened in Mississippi?
"That was the old me," he said. "I knocked the flag over. That's me. That's what I do. This game now is only a putting contest. That's all it is. Technology has brought everyone into a small bowl."
Austin said he was most disappointed that in his two years needing some help, he received only one sponsor exemption. The Greenbrier Classic found room for him — he missed the cut two weeks before winning — and Austin said he will never miss the tournament again.
He is exempt through the end of the 2014-15 season.
GWAA AWARDS: The Golf Writers Association of America is honouring Ken Duke for his perseverance, Graeme McDowell for his accommodation and insight with the media, and Rhonda Glenn for her contributions to the game.
Duke won the Ben Hogan Award for remaining active in golf despite a physical ailment serious illness.
He was diagnosed with scoliosis in the seventh grade and had a 16-inch rod attached to his spine. Duke toiled for 10 years in the minor leagues before he made it to the PGA Tour, and then 10 years later won for the first time at the Travelers Championship. Duke said he was "overwhelmed," especially to win an award linked to Hogan.
"A class act, probably the best to ever play the game," he said. "He put the time into learning to play the game."
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup hero at Wales, once said about the media that relationships should grow stronger the longer a player is on tour. He's backing that up — with his talk, in this case — and won the ASAP Sports-Jim Murray Award for being accommodating to the media.
"Listen, I take my relationship with the media very seriously," McDowell said. "As you know, I'm pretty honest to a fault at times. You guys give us exposure globally. You're a very important cog in the whole golf — and sports — machine. I respect how much work you guys do and it's important — good, bad or ugly — to give you an idea of what's going on in my head and with my game."
Glenn was honoured with the William D. Richardson Award for consistent and outstanding contributions to golf.
She is considered the foremost authority on women's golf, and the books she has written include "The Illustrated History of Women's Golf," published in 1991. She also wrote "Breaking the Mold," the story of Judy Bell, the first woman to be president of the U.S. Golf Association. Glenn spent 47 years at the USGA and was a prominent figure at the women's championships. She also the first female sportscaster to work full-time at a national network when she began broadcasting at ESPN in 1981.
"While the award is for outstanding contributions to golf, I'm very aware that, more importantly, the game has made such an outstanding contribution to my life," she said.
They will be honoured April 9 at the annual GWAA Awards Dinner in Augusta, Ga.
CADDIE BREAK: For the first time since Colonial in 2011, Adam Scott will have a new caddie on the bag this week at the Sony Open.
No, Steve Williams is not ready to retire.
"He's tired. He's old," Scott said of Williams, who turned 50 last week. "One week in a row is enough."
Williams called it the start of his semi-retirement. He has talked about cutting back on his schedule in the next year or two, though it would seem peculiar to come all the way to Hawaii just for one week.
The caddie failed to mention that the New Zealand Super Saloon Championship is next week, followed by the New Zealand Saloon Championships.
"He's chomping at the bit to have a go," Scott said. "He's earned it. I'll let him drive one week, as long as he comes back."
That won't be until the Honda Classic. For the Sony Open, the Masters champion will have a friend on the bag.
WORLD 100: Golf Digest has expanded its "Top 100" list to include courses worldwide, only that didn't change anything at the top.
Pine Valley claimed the No. 1 ranking in the inaugural "World 100 Greatest Courses" list that appears in the February issues available in print next week. The magazine had the top three courses in America (Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Augusta National), with Royal County Down in Northern Ireland at No. 4.
Shinnecock Hills was at No. 5.
The ranking was determined by 846 people from the magazine's U.S. Course Ranking panel, from panelists that work with Golf Digest's 27 international editions and other selected golfers. Forty courses from the top 100 were in America. Golf Digest said America has 46 per cent of all the world's golf courses.
Rounding out the top 10 were Royal Dornoch in Scotland, St. Andrews, Muirfield, Royal Melbourne and Oakmont.
AN ISLAND ON AN ISLAND: Hawaii residents can get sensitive when they hear tourists mention the mainland as "back in the U.S."
Callaway Golf is the latest culprit.
In a press release announcing that it signed two-time PGA Tour winner Harris English to its tour staff, Callaway included a comment from English that was said "shortly before leaving the U.S. for Hawaii."
DIVOTS: One fan of the Dallas Cowboys had reasons beyond football to feel badly for quarterback Tony Romo's back surgery on Dec. 27. Jordan Spieth has to find a new partner for the AT&T Pebble Beach national Pro-Am. One possibility is country singer Jake Owen, who played last year with former U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft. ... Former PGA champion Rich Beem is the latest to have a weekly show on SiriusXM. Beem made his debut Monday and will host the show from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. each Monday ... Chesson Hadley has signed with International Sports Management, making him the first American client with PGA Tour status to sign with Chubby Chandler's group.
INFLATION STAT OF THE WEEK: In his first 24 starts as a pro, Tiger Woods won six times (including the Masters) and earned $2,626,115. In his first 24 starts as a pro, Jordan Spieth won the John Deere Classic and has earned $4,634820.
FINAL WORD: "We're all there. We all feel the same pressure. We all want to win that first major." — Brandt Snedeker on first-timers winning 15 of the last 20 majors.