Nick Faldo sought perfection through mechanics, even as a boy. Given a bicycle for his 12th birthday, he took it apart and put it back together to see how it worked, and to make sure it was built properly. Likewise, he rebuilt a golf swing early in his career that allowed him to become England's most decorated champion.
Paul Azinger was an overachiever who relied on feel and a homemade swing. He could not regularly break 70 until the year before he joined the PGA Tour, yet he went on to win 14 times, including a major, and he beat cancer in the prime of his career.
It was the final round of the 1987 British Open. Faldo made 18 pars for a one-shot victory when Azinger bogeyed the final two holes. And so began a rivalry that gave way to a relationship, which has taken them from the golf course to the broadcast booth to the Ryder Cup, where the captains could be as entertaining as the matches Sept. 19-21 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
'I don't think Nick felt much of a rivalry against me,' Azinger said. 'I probably felt a little more rivalry for him.'
They genuinely miss working with each other in the booth ' now only once a year at the British Open because ABC Sports did not bid on the PGA Tour's latest TV contract ' and understand each other enough that even the British press couldn't start a war of words.
Azinger was quoted as saying that Faldo has redefined himself from aloof as a major champion to engaging as a broadcaster.
'But if you're going to be a (expletive) and everyone hates you, why do you think that just because you're trying to be cute and funny on the air now that the same people are all going to start to like you?' Azinger said in The Daily Mail.
Azinger said he left Faldo this message on his cell phone:
'Well, it's already started. I don't know if you've seen it, but one of those papers said I called you a (expletive) and that everyone from your generation hates you. Even though you pretty much are and everyone pretty much does, I have more diplomacy than to say that.'
It was nothing the British papers had not already reported.
Faldo was so insular as a player that Steve Pate once said playing golf with him was like playing alone, except it took an hour longer. Upon winning the British Open, Faldo once said to the press, 'I'd like to thank you from the heart of my bottom.'
But he has been glib and revealing as a TV analyst, and he remains an icon to a younger generation that grew up watching him win three British Opens, three Masters and more Ryder Cup points than anyone in history.
Azinger is more emotional and expressive, and that hasn't changed.
He is famous for stretching out his arms when he holed a bunker shot to win the Memorial, for rolling up his pant legs to make them look like knickers during a poignant tribute to the late Payne Stewart at a memorial service. He so riled Seve Ballesteros that the five-time major champion said, 'The American team has 11 nice guys ... and Paul Azinger.'
And while Faldo had a Hall of Fame career, Azinger usually got the best of him in the Ryder Cup.
They faced each other four times ' only once in singles ' and the best Faldo could do against Azinger was a halve. It was their final match that was the most riveting, even though it didn't matter.
The Americans already had clinched the Ryder Cup in 1993 when Faldo and Azinger continued to sweat over every shot in the 12th and final singles match. Faldo had a hole-in-one on the 14th, Azinger bounced back with a birdie.
The matched ended in a draw.
What had been Azinger's best year turned into his most terrifying. He had been feeling discomfort in his right shoulder, and it hurt so badly at the Ryder Cup that he couldn't place a scorecard in his back pocket.
A biopsy revealed lymphoma, and Azinger played in only one more Ryder Cup. Two years later, Azinger was in the booth for NBC Sports when it showed highlights of that gritty match with Faldo.
'Look at that,' Azinger said from the booth. 'I had cancer and he still couldn't beat me.'
The stakes are high for their next competition, even though neither will be hitting a shot.
Faldo already has had a few run-ins with players and the press, dating to the Seve Trophy (Britain & Ireland against continental Europe) when he didn't choose an Irishman even though the event was held in Ireland. Paul McGinley stepped down as a vice captain, and Faldo will have only one assistant -- Jose Maria Olazabal -- at Valhalla.
He also turned the conspiracy theorists loose in Britain by picking Paul Casey and Ian Poulter to round out his team, ahead of the wildly popular (and two-time winner) Darren Clarke.
Azinger has a team that does not include Tiger Woods, who is out for the year after knee surgery. Azinger shoots from the lip, but has been particularly guarded with his comments, particular with the European media.
Twenty years later, they still could not be any more different.
But they're still after the same prize.