Azinger Playing But Already Thinking Ryder Cup

By Associated PressJanuary 13, 2008, 5:00 pm
HONOLULU, Hawaii-- Paul Azinger didn't expect to see a large group of Americans lining up at the Sony Open to make small talk, pat him on the back or go out of their way to let him know how well they were playing.
Then again, it's only January. The Ryder Cup is still eight months away.
Azinger is not too far removed from his best golf, the years when he was trying to make an impression on the Ryder Cup captain.
'I think the Ryder Cup is one of those things where you don't start really sugaring up to the captain until midyear,' he said with a laugh. 'They want to make sure they're playing well before they start sliding up to you. That's always the way I worked my little begging process. Make sure I'm playing good before I beg for what I don't want.'
Azinger will have more decisions than any U.S. captain in recent history.
When he took the job in November 2006, he asked the PGA of America to revamp the qualifying system to help get him the hottest players. Along with basing the points on money, Azinger will get an unprecedented four captain's picks.
As for the politicking, it wasn't long before he was proven correct.
One day after he spoke to reporters at the Sony Open, he was walking off the putting green next to Chad Campbell. Someone called out to Campbell and asked if he already was pandering to the captain.
Campbell, who played on the 2004 team, smiled and shook his head.
'I want to see how I'm playing first,' he said.
'Told you,' Azinger chimed in.
Azinger will try to see as much of it as he can before his team is set for the Sept. 19-21 matches at Valhalla. He had a good view from the broadcast booth he shared with European captain Nick Faldo until ABC Sports stepped away from the table when the new TV contract was negotiated two years ago.
Faldo now seems to spend half his life in the booth with CBS Sports and GOLF CHANNEL.
Azinger returned to playing, although not as much.
He finished inside the top 125 on the money list two years ago for the first time since 2002, but he injured his back last summer while trying to move a boat in his garage, and missed the rest of the year. He received a major medical extension for 2008, meaning he has 13 more tournaments to earn $611,111 and finish the year.
That's about all he wants to play.
'If you can't make your money in 13 events, the writing is on the wall: You're not very good,' he said.
Even playing such a limited schedule -- he has never played fewer than 20 when healthy -- his year figures to be busier than ever. He already finds himself consumed with the Ryder Cup, and if that wasn't enough, his oldest daughter is getting married in June.
But don't expect him to be camped out in front of the TV.
'I hate watching golf. I've got to be honest with you,' he said. 'I hate the announcers.'
This brought more laughter, including a request from Azinger.
'If anyone writes that, can you please say, 'He busted out laughing?'' he said, still doing just that.
Trying to gauge who might catch his attention is about as easy predicting what John Daly will do next. Azinger once jokingly tossed out the idea of taking Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes, handing them a driver and telling them to hit it on every hole except the par 3s. He also loves Boo Weekley and the carefree attitude he brings to a team room.
But it starts with performance. More than anything, Azinger wants whomever is playing well.
And that could be anyone.
'Experience is not going to play as much of a factor,' he said. 'I want guys that are red shot. Even after the PGA Championship, we have eight guys that have qualified, we have five weeks until the Ryder Cup. I think I'm going to get three tournaments to watch before I have to pick -- at least two, anyway. Who knows? Some guy could have played horrible all year and win back-to-back. I'll pick him.
'It's likely that whoever wins the last event before the matches start might be an automatic bid. I don't know.'
Azinger is known for his sharp opinions, no matter who might be offended. Even when the PGA TOUR announced a schedule change to create a week off in the FedExCup playoffs before the Ryder Cup, he said, 'It's a shame they didn't think of this before. They wouldn't have had to go through the headache of getting it right.'
He also was among the most vocal over the tour's new cut policy, which kept 17 players who made the cut from competing on the weekend at the Sony Open. Someone posted a sheet of paper in the locker room asking who wanted the new policy changed.
Azinger was among four names who signed under 'Yes.'
'I think the tour should change the rule immediately,' he said. 'I think it's awful.'
But he watches what he says as the Ryder Cup captain. He declined every request last year for a one-on-one interview, and said media training taught him to stay on the subject so he won't get trapped.
'I just think I've got to be a little more guarded because I'm not just representing myself anymore,' he said. 'It's one thing to put your foot in your mouth and you look bad, but you now represent the 28,000 men and women of the PGA of America. So they want to make sure that you take the high road if you can.'
And how has that been?
'So far, so good,' he said with a smile.
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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.