ABC to Bring Azinger Faldo to the Booth
In the final pairing at The Belfry in 1993, Faldo took the lead with an ace on the 14th. Azinger answered with a birdie to square the match. And although the United States already had clinched victory, they battled to the very end, with Azinger pouring everything into a 12-foot birdie on the 18th hole for a halve.
'The last time I talked to Nick Faldo, he shook my hand at the Ryder Cup,' Azinger said.
The next time could be in the broadcast booth at ABC Sports.
Two sources connected to ABC, both speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the network will announce next week at the Tour Championship that Azinger and Faldo will share the booth with host Mike Tirico for a majority of ABC's golf telecasts next year.
'I can't answer that,' said Mark Loomis, wrapping up his first full season as ABC's coordinating producer for golf.
Azinger, who first dabbled in television at the '95 Ryder Cup when he was recovering from cancer, is among five players who worked sparingly with ABC this year as the network tried to find a replacement for Curtis Strange.
'I don't want to be a full-time broadcaster,' Azinger said.
Faldo worked with ABC at the British Open and the American Express Championship. He said in Ireland that he would like to work a dozen tournaments for ABC as a way to keep in touch with golf.
The sources said minor details were being worked out this week as ABC tries to complete its lineup of talent. The other networks have only one analyst in the booth: Johnny Miller at NBC, Lanny Wadkins at CBS.
'We are definitely going to be different next year,' Loomis said. 'I'm really excited about what we're planning.'
It would be the latest wrinkle in a season of change for Loomis, who was hired about this time last year when Jack Graham resigned as ABC's golf producer.
ABC is often perceived as the weak link among network golf coverage, in part because of its schedule.
CBS has the Masters and the PGA Championship, along with highly rated PGA Tour events early in the season (Pebble Beach) and in the spring (Wachovia, Byron Nelson, Memorial). NBC has the fewest tournaments, but scores with the Florida swing, the U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup.
'Whoever has the Masters is always going to be the greatest focus. That's one golf tournament that sticks out,' Loomis said. 'And Johnny Miller has made a huge difference in golf television. I don't think we're third, but that's not my decision. I can just tell you we're trying to make it better.'
Loomis, 37, started his career in 1990 by paying his way to golf tournaments to work as a runner. He researched statistics for Brent Musburger in 1992, moved up to a production assistant and has spent the last seven years producing college football and basketball for ABC.
His marching orders as the golf producer were tall.
'They said, 'Let's make this the best golf coverage on TV,'' Loomis said. 'And in order to do that, you have to try a bunch of things.'
The first step was production.
Loomis sent out a questionnaire to his entire crew, from cameramen to announcers, and the resounding response was that the telecast needed more energy.
He considered taking the lead analyst out of the booth and putting him on the course, although that never happened. The one experiment he liked was getting an on-course commentator to the ball quickly to explain what the player is facing on the next shot.
'Logistically, it's hard to make that happen,' Loomis said. 'We have to have a camera out there right away. And the best time to go to commercial is when they hit their tee shot, because it's a long walk. I don't want to do this just to do it. I want to do it when it makes sense.'
The biggest change was when Strange resigned in June after nine years in the booth. Strange turns 50 next year and will be eligible for the Champions Tour, although he was interested in staying with ABC if he could get a long-term commitment. ABC didn't offer one as it tried to chart a new course.
Loomis says there is no model for golf coverage, although having two analysts in the booth would break the mold. As he spoke, ESPN's college football show was on the television behind him ' with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit.
'Who says it has to be two, three, four people?' Loomis said. 'It depends on the personalities and the mix. My hope is we put the right mix together. If I had to say anything about what the future holds, it's that we'll have a better mix of personalities.
'Don't get me wrong ' golf is the most important part, how we present it,' he said. 'I can do a million things production-wise, and the average viewer might subliminally notice or might be more entertained. But consciously, you really notice the announcers.'
Azinger and Faldo might be just as dynamic in the booth as they were at The Belfry.
Faldo has a dry sense of humor, a distinctive voice and credentials stronger than any other player interested in television work ' six majors, 10 Ryder Cup teams and his 97 weeks atop the world ranking, the third-longest time at No. 1 behind Tiger Woods and Greg Norman.
Azinger is a prankster with an edge to his commentary. His first trip to the broadcast booth came in 1995 at the Ryder Cup, when NBC showed highlights of his match against Faldo.
'Look at that,' Azinger said that day, when the tape showed Faldo making his hole-in-one. 'I had cancer and he still couldn't beat me.'
So he might as well join him.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.