Azinger Looking Feeling Like His Old Self
Azinger had gone 17 months and 31 tournaments without so much as a top 10. Worse yet, he was missing chunks of the year with a sore back.
'I saw no hope, really, no end in sight,' Azinger said. 'I worked with several different guys, and nothing was helping. Plus, my back was killing me.'
It all started to turn around when he began working with Jim Hardy in Houston four months ago.
Azinger never had the prettiest swing in golf. He hunched over the ball, but it worked well enough for him to make good contact, win 13 times and a PGA Championship.
At some point, he tried to move closer and stand taller, which he thinks caused back problems and resulted in bad shots, and eventually bad scores. Hardy worked to get Azinger back to his old posture, and he already is seeing positive signs.
Azinger opened the season with a tie for 10th in the Sony Open, his best finish since a tie for sixth in the 2002 Buick Open. He followed that with another tie for 10th at the Bob Hope Classic.
'As soon as I got taller and closer to the ball, I might have looked better, but it was just destroying me because it took me to the inside of the ball on the way down,' Azinger said. 'I hit thin fades and duck hooks. It was awful.
'As soon as I bent over from the waist, I felt the freedom of my upper body.'
Azinger hasn't felt any pain since returning to his old posture.
He looks like the old Azinger, except for the full beard and occasional tam o'shanter cap. In two tournaments, he has earned $214,543. That's $8,000 less than what he made in 26 starts last year.
'I'm actually way ahead of where I thought I would be,' he said. 'I had a feeling that I would get off to a good start, because I was putting really well and I knew I was hitting better. But it's a little bit hotter than I anticipated.'
YOUNG AT HEART
Jay Haas has no reason to believe he belongs on the Champions Tour.
Haas turned 50 in December, and while most men his age look forward to reuniting with old friends at tournament with no cuts,
Haas has other ideas.
He wants to make the Ryder Cup team.
One tournament into the year, it doesn't look like a far-fetched goal. Haas came up one shot short of the playoff at the Bob Hope Classic. He earned 80 points, moving him to No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings.
'This is pretty satisfying,' Haas said. 'I don't feel a lot different than I did last year, and I didn't feel that much different from the year before. This is a good start.'
Several players have told him that once he goes to the Champions Tour, it's difficult to compete on the PGA Tour. The rare exception was Craig Stadler, who won the weak B.C. Open last year.
Haas plans to play in the Champions Tour majors -- he eligible for four of them -- but probably won't play on that circuit until after the Masters.
'I just feel like this is where I want to play,' Haas said. 'This is all I know.'
Paul Stankowski shot in the 60s every round at the Bob Hope Classic, and all that got him was a tie for 47th, 13 strokes out of the playoff.
He has plenty of company. Three tournaments into the season, 22 other players have shot sub-70 scores every round without winning.
That happened to 98 players last year. Tim Petrovic, Joe Durant, Jim Furyk and Steve Flesch each had four tournaments where they shot every round in the 60s and still didn't win.
Vijay Singh, coming off his best season as a pro, has signed a two-year endorsement deal with McLeodUSA Inc., a telecommunications services provider.
The deal makes sense.
Forstmann Little & Co. became a 58 percent shareholder of McLeodUSA two years ago, and Singh is good friends with Ted Forstmann, his partner during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
''I've known Ted Forstmann for a long time, and anything he's connected with has always been a winner,'' Singh said.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Long hours with Langer
Vijay Singh is regarded as the hardest-working man in golf, but Bernhard Langer was no slouch, himself.
Just ask Peter Coleman, who spent more than 20 years as his caddie before leaving him late last year for Lee Westwood.
Asked what it was like working for Langer, Coleman gave the Times of London a one-word answer.
''Hard,'' he said.
''He was 101 percent behind anything he was involved in. It was very tiring,'' Coleman said. ''It was from eight in the morning until six every night, without a break.''
Coleman said Langer tried every new piece of equipment the minute it was available.
''I once went out for a practice round with him with 24 clubs in my bag,'' Coleman said. ''Bernhard could hold up an entire field single-handed by practicing with clubs during a practice round.''
How did Coleman survive? Apparently, it wasn't easy.
''When I was young, I did not complain,'' he said. ''But I could not have lasted another year with him. He was too demanding.''
Sounds as if Dave Renwick, the caddie for Singh, has it easy.
A top-10 finish by Vijay Singh this week in Phoenix would give him 11 in a row, the longest streak since Greg Norman had 11 consecutive top 10s in 1993-94. ... Now that Tiger Woods has won PGA Tour Player of the Year for the fifth straight time, the question is where to present the trophies to him and other winners. It was held at Torrey Pines the last year, but could be headed to its fifth location in seven years, probably at The Players Championship. ... Foreign domination of the LPGA Tour might have been behind a change in the Solheim Cup standings. Instead of points for top-10 finishes, the LPGA Tour will award points to U.S. players who finish in the top 20.
Stat of the week
Three of the five winners of the Accenture Match Play Championship are unlikely to get into the top 64 to qualify for this year's tournament -- Kevin Sutherland (No. 101), Jeff Maggert (No. 139) and Steve Stricker (No. 293).
'I never vote for Player of the Year because it's a popularity contest, but I voted this year because I like Vijay.'' -- Paul Azinger.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational
Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.
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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course
ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.
McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.
“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”
This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.
A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.
McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.
“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”
As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.
“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”