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England's Ian Poulter is known for his flashy clothes, while Woody Austin is known for how he handles his putter. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ryder Cup pressure's on for Austin, Poulter

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They both know what's at stake this week at the 90th PGA Championship, but Woody Austin and Ian Poulter are trying not to think too much about making their respective Ryder Cup teams.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- One is known for being a bid odd, a little quirky and honest to a fault.

The other is on a daily can't-miss list because of his eclectic fashion sense and his habit of actually answering the questions put to him. Again, honest to a fault.

They're individuals. Polar opposites, honestly, who go their own ways, do what works for them and alternately fill up journalists' notebooks or make the nightly highlight reel.

Both have been accused of calling out one Tiger Woods. Both had hardscrabble roots and took unconventional routes to the big time -- one worked as a bank teller; the other sold clothes in England starting at age 11 and turned pro with a 4 handicap -- are more than a bit misunderstood and would love it if we would let some things in their past remain there.

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Both -- it goes without saying -- would rather be known for their golf.

And did we mention that nailing down spots on their respective Ryder Cup teams would be nice?

Meet Woody Austin and Ian Poulter -- Woody and Poults to their friends. Guys with great senses of humor. Prime candidates to their respective Ryder Cup captains.

With one week, one last major to go, Austin was ninth on the U.S. list; Poulter was seventh on the European list. Both want to play at Valhalla in September and because they qualified for the team, not as captain's picks.

To be blunt, they've put a lot of added pressure on themselves these past few weeks to make those teams -- Austin with top 10s; Poulter with a second-place at the Open Championship. And heading into the PGA Championship -- the last week for U.S. players the to qualify; fourth to the last for Europeans -- both are trying to take this week as it comes.

But it's not easy.

"I've been telling my wife, as much as I don't want to think about it, as much as I try not to think about it, I can't stop thinking about it," said Austin, who is 180 points and change behind Steve Stricker, who is in eighth place.

"Each day I'm trying to track where I am. And that's not good."

Added Poulter, who made a huge jump with his runner-up finish at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, "There's no point looking at it any more. I understand where I am and I understand that these four days coming up are going to be very important.

"So I just need to play well, to be honest. It will be what will be, to be honest with you. I can't worry he about it too much. I can't keep thinking about it. Because it will take its toll, and I don't want to keep letting it affect my routine for this week. I just know what I've got to do. I can only do what I can do and that is play good golf this week. If I play well, I'll be on the side. If I play solid for the next four tournaments that I'm going to play, if I'm not on the side, I'm sure going to have a chance to be getting a pick. That's what I do know.

"So there's just been an awful lot of talk about it and I've just got to get out there and play golf and enjoy myself."

Ultimately, though, both want to win a major. Austin, now 44, came close at last year's PGA when he pushed Tiger Woods to the end at Southern Hills before finishing second. He knows there won't be many chances left.

Poulter, on the other hand, stuck a shot into the 72nd green at Birkdale to finish second. At 32, he's got a bright -- no pun toward his forward fashion sense or multi-colored hair -- future.

Here, they'll face one of the toughest tests in recent history, a Monster who has been super-sized again by Rees Jones. All of which means, for starters, long approaches for shorter hitters like Austin and par 3s where you need a wood simply to reach them.

"They're supposed to be short holes, right?," Austin said. "Isn't that what a par 3 is? Short?"

Yes, he's challenged there, while Poulter faces a bit of history. No European has won this event since Tommy Armour in 1930.

"Hopefully we can change that this week," said the Englishman, who went 2-0 in Europe's 18 1/2-9 1/2 win over the U.S. in the 2004 Ryder Cup here. "It's the same old question arises every single time."

Ditto for some things from their pasts.

Both are one of a kind -- guys who get caught up in the moment and embrace it. And, sometimes, an innocent comment turns into headlines.

Poulter, who has won seven times on the European Tour but has yet to break through in the U.S., is on stage daily for his outfits. He favors pinks and yellows and plaids and often has a streak or two in his hair to match. He also has his own clothing design company and, honestly, reaches a younger audience.

He's also not afraid to walk on the wild side -- he posed nude with nothing but a pink golf bag in a strategic place for one magazine and once wore Union Jack pants during a round -- and he'll say what's on his mind. For instance, earlier this year when he said when he played to his full potential, it would be him and Tiger. Refreshing to some; tabloid fodder for others.

As for Austin? The three-time PGA TOUR winner -- he was 41 when he won his first -- is best remembered for breaking his putter over his head 10 years ago, for "challenging" Tiger at Southern Hills and for last year's Aquaman moments at the Presidents Cup. Especially the latter.

Austin, who has a penchant for self-deprecating humor, fell into the water attempting to his a shot last year in Montreal and, the next day, sported some swimming goggles as a joke. He was embracing his miscue, laughing as hard at himself as his teammates had the previous day and night.

Now, he can't live it down.

The first four tournaments of the year, his pro-am partners showed up wearing goggles. The galleries ask if he kept them. And when he walked onto the range at the Bob Hope, one marshal reminded him there were 42 acres of water on the property. He might want to try and stay away.

"I try not to be rude," Austin said. "I try not to say anything."

He just puts his head down and plays. Hopefully, he said, onto this Ryder Cup team, which would fulfill yet another dream.

"If I get on that Ryder Cup, I'll say I've played in every big event at every big stage that you could play as a professional golfer," Austin said.

"The only thing I would be short of is winning a major. But I almost did that last year, so maybe this year I'll get a little better."

Perhaps this will be the week when Aquaman and fashion -- no, we don't know what Poulter has in store for us -- take a back seat to Ryder Cup talk.

But until then, we asked Austin, could you tell us what happened to the goggles?

He smiled. They're at home.

Signed by the whole team and captain Jack Nicklaus.

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