A passion unmatched

By Randall MellMay 7, 2011, 10:43 am

Seve Ballesteros could drive him crazy.

Paul Azinger once called the fiery Spaniard “The King of Gamesmanship” in their emotionally charged Ryder Cup rivalry.

But Azinger could drive Ballesteros just as crazy.

“The American team has 11 nice guys . . . and Paul Azinger,” Ballesteros once said.

They battled each other as fiercely as any Ryder Cup foes ever have.

They sparred as shot makers. They sparred psychologically. They sparred verbally.

The confrontations between Ballesteros and Azinger at Kiawah Island in 1991 made them central figures in the “War on the Shore,” the United States’ victory that elevated the Ryder Cup’s intensity. Actually, the bad blood between Ballesteros and Azinger spilled over from The Belfry two years earlier, when Azinger defeated Ballesteros in a singles match so passionately contested that Ballesteros left the match teary-eyed.

All these years later, with Saturday’s news of Ballesteros’ death, Azinger remembers his old rival with more than admiration and respect.

Azinger remembers Ballesteros’ heart, the intensity of caring that fueled the man’s competitive fire but also his generous spirit.

“Seve’s one of the first persons who called when I got sick,” Azinger told GolfChannel.com. “We had our moments that I think we regret playing out on a public stage, but we had totally resolved all that in a conversation.”

A couple months after the “War on the Shore,” Ballesteros and Azinger talked out their issues on a practice putting green in an event in Jamaica.

Azinger remembers the conversation vividly. He remembers Ballesteros telling him how the “King of Gamesmanship” comment hurt him. He remembers Ballesteros confiding that he said things just to hurt Azinger in return. He even remembers Ballesteros’ exact words in deciding they should forgive each other.

“Seve, in his classic way, says, `We’ll treat this like old toilet water. We’ll flush this,’” Azinger said.

Two years after the “War on the Shore,” Azinger was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer, in his right shoulder. Ballesteros reached out to make sure Azinger knew he cared.

“I was too sick to talk to anyone when Seve called, but when you’re sick, that’s all you need to hear, that someone called,” Azinger said. “It isn’t the words of encouragement you really remember. It’s the act, the idea he called. That meant everything.”

Ballesteros and Azinger played a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match at the Old Course at St. Andrews in 1995. They’ve played practice rounds together.

“People feel an emotion about Seve unlike any other player that’s ever played golf,” Azinger said.

Azinger probably summed up the nature of his relationship with Ballesteros best in his autobiography, Zinger: A Champion’s Story of Determination, Courage and Charging Back.

“I just can’t help loving the guy, except for one week every other year,” Azinger wrote.

Ballesteros is remembered as the heart and soul of so many European Ryder Cup teams. He led the ’85, ’87 and ’89 teams that won or retained the cup while turning around Europe’s foundering history in the event. He was 10-3-2 in those pivotal years. Overall, in eight Ryder Cups, Ballesteros was 20-12-5. He was also the victorious captain for the ’97 Euro squad.

Azinger met Ballesteros just three times in Ryder Cup play, but the intensity of their matches helped changed the nature of the competition.

Azinger defeated Ballesteros in a singles match and lost twice to him in partnered matches.

The complicated nature of Ballesteros’ heart led to a complicated relationship with his Ryder Cup rival.

“Seve probably had the greatest flair for the game of anybody I’ve ever played with,” Azinger said. “He had the `it’ factor, the charisma. He was very passionate and giving of his knowledge, and he was also extremely patriotic.

“I played practice rounds with Seve, and we got along great, but when we played together at the Ryder Cup, there was a whole other side to Seve. That patriotic mechanism kicked in and changed the way he played. I think his passion became even greater than what it was winning major championships.”

Azinger first played with Ballesteros at the 1987 PGA Championship at PGA National, a month after Azinger lost a chance to win the British Open.

Ballesteros, who would win five major championships, could sense the lingering disappointment hindering Azinger’s game.

“You no worry about this,” Ballesteros told Azinger at the end of their round. “You are a very good player. You have many more chances.”

A year later, at the U.S. Open, Azinger and Ballesteros were both in contention when paired in the final round at The Country Club at Brookline. Again, Ballesteros, who played himself out of contention, began rooting for Azinger, encouraging him to finish strong and win even as Azinger came up short.

When Azinger made his first Ryder Cup team at The Belfry in ‘89, he got a completely different view of Ballesteros. He pulled Ballesteros as his Sunday singles opponent. Azinger was a Ryder Cup rookie, Ballesteros the heart and soul of the European team.

It took just two holes before they were engaged in their first confrontation.

Ballesteros told Azinger that his balata ball was cut, and he was taking it out of play. Azinger wanted to see the ball, to make sure, as the rules dictated, that it was visibly cut. Azinger deemed there were groove marks on the ball, but it wasn’t cut or damaged enough to remove from play. In fact, Azinger thought his own ball was in worse shape.

After a referee intervened, upholding Azinger’s opinion, this rivalry was fully engaged with Ballesteros upset.

At the 18th hole, Ballesteros disputed a drop after Azinger hit a shot in the water, though an official once again guided Azinger’s drop. Despite a clutch holed putt at the last by Ballesteros, Azinger won the match 1 up with a terrific recovery, making Azinger an American bright spot with Europe retaining the cup.

Two years later, at Kiawah Island, fate brought Ballesteros and Azinger back together again.

In the opening morning match, Azinger and Chip Beck were teamed in alternate shot against Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the Spanish Armada. It took two holes before Azinger and Ballesteros were squaring off over another controversial drop. At the fourth, there was an issue over a lost ball. At the ninth, another confrontation over a drop, and at the 10th hole a dispute over Azinger and Beck changing the compression of the ball they were playing.

Though 3 down at the turn, Ballesteros and Olazabal won the match 2 and 1.

As fate would have it once more, the teams were matched again in afternoon best ball. Ballesteros and Olazabal prevailed yet again, with gamesmanship accusations escalating. Azinger and Beck were annoyed at what they termed Ballesteros’ “sporadic throat-clearing.” Azinger said they were among “distractions” Ballesteros created.

Looking back, Azinger relishes the fierceness of the competition with Ballesteros.

“Seve was the most passionate player I’ve ever faced,” Azinger said. “He was tough. There was gamesmanship. We just butted heads.

“I was obviously very passionate and patriotic as well. I took the Ryder Cup personal, and I think Seve took the Ryder Cup personal.”

Azinger believes the passions exhibited in his Ryder Cup rivalry with Ballesteros were good for the international team event.

“Seve was great, and he was great for the game,” Azinger said.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.