Azinger Looking Feeling Like His Old Self

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Two tournaments do not make a season, let alone a comeback. Even so, Paul Azinger has to be encouraged by his start this year.
 
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.'
 
Going Low
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.
 
Calling Vijay
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.
 
Divots
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).
 
Final word
'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.
 
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