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.
Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain
PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.
She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.
“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.
Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.
“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”
She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.
“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”
Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.
“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.
She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.
“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”
Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.
While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.
“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”
Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead
PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.
In fact, she named her “Mona.”
For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.
While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.
And that has her excited about this year.
Well, that and having a healthy back again.
“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”
Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”
Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.
She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”
Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.
Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders
PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.
Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.
Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.
Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.
Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC
PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.
With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.
After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.
“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”
It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.
Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.
“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”
Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.
Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.
“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”
Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).
Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.
“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”
Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.
“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”
Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.