Azinger reveals Ryder Cup secret

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2008, 4:00 pm
ATLANTA ' Just as captain Paul Azinger promised, the Americans partied into the morning hours after winning the Ryder Cup.
 
Egged on by his teammates, Boo Weekley told the story of the time he was a teenager in the Florida Panhandle and paid $5 on 10-to-1 odds that he could land a punch against an orangutan. Weekley finally regain consciousness in the back of a pickup truck.
 
That was hilarious, Anthony Kim said. I could hear that story 100 times and keep laughing.
 
Keeping to tradition and class, Team Europe joined the Americans in the team room, and the Americans paid their victims tribute by singing Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, the European soccer song they had heard while losing the previous three times.
 
They celebrated as a team of 12 following a week in which they were three teams of four.
 
It was an intriguing concept that Azinger spent nearly two years cooking up. He built his team by doing personality profiles of three dozen potential players and grouping them accordingly.
 
The aggressive personalities were Kim, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan. The Kentucky group featured Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Weekley (a southerner) along with Jim Furyk, the misfit of the group who provided leadership. The emotionally quiet featured Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell.
 
They stuck together for three days of practice. Pairings came only from inside their pod.
 
Azinger gave them ownership of their group, building team spirit within small groups. But it went beyond the players. He also assigned an assistant captain to each group ' Raymond Floyd got the aggressive bunch, Olin Browne had the Southern group and Dave Stockton was with the other pod.
 
Azinger rarely saw any of them hit a shot, relying entirely on his assistants for updates on how they were playing, and who might need a lift. The captain zipped over to the seventh fairway when hearing Cink and Campbell dunk shots in the water during the opening session.
 
I told them theres good news and bad news, Azinger said. The bad news is you just made a 10. The good news is you only lost one hole. Now they have everything to lose, and you have everything to gain. Play the next shot. And they came back and won.
 
There was a feeling the Americans were more of a team without Tiger Woods, the dominant figure in golf. Looking back on how Azinger built his team, one suspects Woods could have easily fit into this concept.
 
Assuming Campbell would not have been on the team, Woods likely would have been part of the Kentucky group, providing leadership and experience. He probably would have been paired with Weekley, leaving Perry and Holmes together. Furyk would have moved into the quiet, unflappable group.
 
Azinger shed a little light on his concept during the closing press conference, but still gave credit where it was due.
 
In the end, the players did it, he said.
 
RYDER CUP PERKS
 
Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger was so emotionally spent after the U.S. victory over Europe that he turned down offers to be on the TV late shows.
 
But there is one appearance Azinger would love to make.
 
I want to throw out the first pitch at a Rays game, he said.
 
Azinger grew up south of Tampa, Fla., and still makes his home there.
 
PAYNE STEWART AWARD
 
Davis Love III keeps his trophies from the PGA Championship and THE PLAYERS Championship separate from his 16 other victories on the PGA TOUR. But hes about to add another one to the elite collection.
 
Love was honored Tuesday with the Payne Stewart Award, given to a PGA TOUR player who reflects Stewarts respect for tradition, charity and presentation through dress and conduct.
 
The award has been presented each year at the TOUR Championship since 2000, a year after Stewart perished in a plane crash on his way to the PGA TOURs season finale.
 
Payne was a great competitor and a great friend of mine, and to have my name on the trophy is going to be quite an honor, Love said.
 
He recalled the last time they played together, in the opening session of the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline.
 
Before we went out there, he goes, I want something a little more out of you than Ive been seeing in the past, Love said.
 
On the 17th hole, Love hit a poor shot into a bunker.
 
We were walking up to the green and I said, Payne, you get it on the green and Ill make it, Love said. He hit it out and I had about a 15-footer. He came over and I said, Ive got it.
 
Love holed the putt, and he said Stewart ran over and jabbed him repeatedly in the chest saying, Thats what Im talking about.
 
He challenged me, he inspired me and pushed me, Love said.
 
NO LOVE
 
Davis Love III, a former PGA champion who has played on six Ryder Cup teams, is a lock to be the U.S. captain one of these years. But it doesnt sound like 2010 will be it.
 
I would consider myself too young and too interested in still playing, said the 44-year-old Love.
 
Azinger said he has not thought about being captain again, even if he is asked. The heavy favorite would be Corey Pavin, because Fred Couples will be the Presidents Cup captain next year and most other candidates are on the Champions Tour or too young.
 
Thats not to say Love is not interested. He said if PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka called with an offer, Wed have a conversation.
 
Id love to be considered, he said. But Id love to play, too.
 
DIVOTS
 
Among the text messages Tiger Woods sent Paul Azinger at the Ryder Cup: You will win tomorrow because only Americans win on that course. Valhalla previously hosted the PGA Championship in 1996, won by Mark Brooks, and in 2000, won by Woods. David Duval tied for 22nd last week at the Viking Classic, his best finish on the PGA TOUR since a tie for 16th in the 2006 U.S. Open. Davis Love III plans to play five out of six Fall Series events. The PGA TOUR is wrapping up its 2009 schedule, still uncertain whether to play four consecutive weeks next year in the FedExCup.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
 
The TOUR Championship has only 15 of the top 30 players in the world ranking.
 
FINAL WORD
 
This is like the California Penal League softball championship. ' Eric Larson, caddie for Anthony Kim, on the intense, partisan cheering as he walked off the first tee at the Ryder Cup. Larson spent 11 years in a federal prison on a drug conviction.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
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  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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    Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

    By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

    If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

    Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

    Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


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    There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

    There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

    Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

    John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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    Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

    Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

    Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


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    “I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

    Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

    “I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

    But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

    “I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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    Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

    Hoylake in 2006.

    That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

    So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


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    “I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

    With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

    “The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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    How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

    By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

    Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

    Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

    Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

    But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

    Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

    Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.


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    “A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

    The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

    “Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

    It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

    As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

    “This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

    Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

    Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

    The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

    “You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

    But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

    The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

    In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

    “There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

    The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

    On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

    “It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

    Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.