Woody Austin’s spent the past few years living the life of a golf nomad, not knowing when his next opportunity to play on the PGA Tour would come.
Those days are over for a while.
The 49-year-old Austin won the Sanderson Farms Championship on Sunday for his first PGA Tour victory since 2007, beating Cameron Beckman and Daniel Summerhays with an 8-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff.
“It’s been a long road and a long time,” Austin said. “Now I’ve got a job again.”
Austin is the eighth-oldest winner in PGA Tour history and the oldest since Fred Funk won at 50 in 2007. The victory gave him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and a spot in the PGA Championship – not to mention a $540,000 paycheck.
Not bad for a guy who hadn’t even made a cut on the tour this year.
Austin came into the final round two shots behind Summerhays and Nicholas Thompson, but made up ground with a 5-under 67 to finish at 20-under 268. His final round didn’t start particularly well – he bogeyed No. 2 – but he recovered with an eagle on No. 5 and birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to vault back into contention.
“My iron play is my strength and it was there this week,” said Austin, who has four career victories. “I was able to maneuver the ball around, get the ball close to the flag. The most important part of the game is putting and I putted good this week, plain and simple.”
Beckman and Summerhays both birdied No. 18 to match Austin, and Beckman missed a 5-foot putt that would have forced a second playoff hole.
Beckman shot 67, and Summerhays had a 69.
Summerhays and Thompson started the day tied for the lead, two shots ahead the pack.
But Thompson fell out of contention quickly with a double bogey on No. 5 and a bogey on No. 8. He finished fourth at 18 under, two shots back after a 71. Summerhays moved into the lead with a birdie on No. 9, but made bogey on 14 and fell behind until making birdies on both Nos. 17 and 18.
It was the second straight week Summerhays failed to close a tournament after having at least a share of the lead on the final day. His drive on the playoff hole – the 532-yard, par-5 18th – found the bunker on the right side of the fairway and he hit into the water on his second shot.
He tied for fourth the week before at the John Deere, a stroke out of a playoff after bogeying the final hole.
“It’s tough to swallow for sure, but again, it’s my first playoff and there are all these new `firsts,“’ Summerhays said. “Hopefully I can continue to learn and grow.”
Summerhays praised Austin for making clutch putts in the final round.
“You’ve got to be kidding me – he’s 49 years old and kicking all our butts,” Summerhays said. “Hats off to him.”
Austin wasn’t the only veteran making a move on the final day.
Beckman, a 43-year-old, recovered from a 72 in the opening round to post a 64, 65 and 67 in the final three rounds. He was tied for the lead at various times Sunday. He drilled an impressive 15-foot birdie putt to force the playoff, but his 5-foot putt on the playoff hole missed to the right.
Billy Andrade charged up the leaderboard with a 65 to tie for fifth at 17 under. The 49-year-old started the day seven shots off the lead but climbed quickly by shooting 7 under through his first 11 holes. He finished with seven straight pars.
It was the first day of the tournament that didn’t involve a weather delay. But there was plenty of heat and humidity – as well as some wind for the first time all week – as players dealt with a soft course that received more than an inch of rain overnight.
Austin managed it all and now has some decisions to make. He will turn 50 in six months, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. But Austin didn’t sound like a guy ready to give up life on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve always told everybody I want to play out here,” Austin said. “I’m one of those people who doesn’t like a number. I don’t like the idea that people say, `Oh, you’re 50 years old, you’re not good enough to play anymore and need to go play with the old guys … For the past five years, I’ve still felt that I have the ability to compete.”
He proved it on Sunday.