Azinger puts British Open near-miss behind him, seeks PGA title
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Azinger, built like a 2-iron at 6 ft. 2 in. and 170 lbs., considers his iron play his best suit. But as Dan Forsman put it after barely losing to him at Hartford: ``When you're playing as well as Paul is, you have no weakness. He has a great putting stroke, especially on the critical short ones. You have the feeling he's going to make every putt he really needs.''Skip to next paragraph
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Azinger, by his own admission playing too conservatively the last day at Hartford, sank a tense seven-footer to win on the final hole.
``A putt like that tells me I'm not a choker,'' he says. ``I made a 25-footer to eagle the last hole in Vegas. People have to respect that.''
That is as close to immodesty as the polite, appreciative Azinger gets. There is no jaded professionalism about him despite his long apprenticeship and the grind of weekly tournament travel.
``Pro golfers are spoiled - all of us,'' he admits. ``I just feel lucky to be where I am. I had some tough years getting here, but my wife, Toni, kept encouraging me, and I was always thrilled to be playing golf for a living.''
Azinger says this with the unbridled zest of a kid next door who just got his first baseball glove for Christmas. His wide-eyed exuberance never seems to wane, and he vows he won't let success change him.
``Certainly I'm not a great player yet,'' he adds. ``I'm not sure what it takes to be great. I see a tremendously intense look on the faces of guys like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson and Raymond Floyd. They concentrate every minute they're at the course. I need to develop more of that intensity and always focus on the positive - never on the negative.''
His friends say he's still improving. They call him ``Zinger.'' And he's certainly zinging the PGA Tour pretty well so far this year.
As for the PGA, the course is a long one with a lot of sand, which should suit Paul's game. He's a fairly strong hitter, and last year he led the tour in sand saves, or the ability to get down in two shots from a bunker.
Another probable contender is Curtis Strange, who has won two tournaments in the last month. And of course there will be the usual array of big names such as Nicklaus, Watson, Norman, etc.
The defending champion is Bob Tway, who holed out from a bunker on the last hole to beat Norman a year ago. Also to be watched are the winners of this year's other majors - Masters champion Larry Mize, US Open winner Scott Simpson, and Faldo.
Unless one of this trio should emerge on top, this will be the fifth year in a row in which a different player has won each of the four major titles. Tom Watson, who won the US and British opens in 1982, was the last double winner in the same year. In fact, 18 different players have won the 18 majors starting with the 1983 US Open and continuing through this year's British Open.
Holding this midsummer event in Florida raised a few eyebrows, but the reason is easy enough to understand when you realize that the site is the PGA National Golf Club, home course of the sponsoring organization.
The contrast should be as extreme as imaginable from the chilly winds and rain of Scotland. Conditions will be the same for everyone, of course, but some individuals handle such weather better than others. Thus this year's winner will be not only the one who comes up with the right shots, but also the one who can best withstand the heat and humidity throughout the 72-hole event.