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January 23, 2004

Paul Azinger


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Great round today. Good position going into the weekend. Why don't you just talk about your day over there at La Quinta Country Club.

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I was prepared to be patient with par because this golf course, I think traditionally, plays a little more difficult. I ended up making nine threes today. I drove the ball exceptionally well. I don't know how many fairways I missed. I'm sure I missed a couple but I didn't miss very many. Maybe I didn't miss any, I'm not sure.

But I made three bogeys today and they were all three kind of unforced errors from the middle of the fairway on 2 with a 6-iron, I made a bogey. I hit it to the right and short-sided myself.

It hit an 8-iron on the par 3, seventh hole into the water on the right, which is inexcusable. Really as good as I was swinging, that was an unforced error and I ended up getting up-and-down for a bogey there.

My 16th hole of the day, which I think plays pretty tough, I hit a beautiful 3-wood and had another 6-iron yardage and missed it on the short I'd and made my third bogey.

Normally, on La Quinta, if you make bogey, it's because you've driven it behind a tree or something and I made three bogeys from perfect. So that was a little disappointing about but all in all, I'm very excited. I played well again. And compared to last year, I think I was four shots out of second to last going into Sunday last year, that's how bad I played, and I shot 66 to avoid finishing at the very bottom.

So, I've improved quite a bit. It's about 150 spots between where I was then and where I am now.

Q. I know you're one of the people everyone is rooting for to come back, how do you feel on your comeback trail, how far along do you feel that you are?

PAUL AZINGER: I'm actually way ahead of where I thought I would be. I had a feeling that I would come out and 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 probably hotter than I anticipated. When a guy makes $200,000 the previous year and the leading money winner is rattling off like 7 or 8 million, you figure he's played pretty bad. When you finish 14th at TPC and make 200,000, that was just a horrible year.

Last week, I made 110,000 which is a little more than half of what I made all last year and here I am again. It's pretty exciting for me. It's what I always strive for but it's hard when you hit rock bottom to come back. I made some significant changes that were for the better, and my back doesn't hurt anymore.

My back bothered me for a couple of years pretty bad and I think my swing was hurting my back. Just a big difference. I feel better, and as I continue to post decent scores my confidence is going to begin to grow.

Q. You came close to winning this tournament a couple of times back I think in '89, you lost in a playoff, I think. Are these courses just courses that you've always kind of felt you could score on pretty easily?

PAUL AZINGER: I remember in '89, my wedge game was really hot. It's kind of a wedger's paradise, really if you're driving the ball decent. I've always been a better wedge player than middle iron play, obviously. Or some players you look at them and say the guy is an unbelievable long-iron player or short- or mid-iron player. I've always been a pretty good wedge player.

The problem has been, the last several years, is I've just driven it so bad, I just couldn't take advantage of a decent wedge same. So far this year I've driven it a lot better and I've been able to hit wedges from the fairway instead of out from underneath trees.

Q. Do you feel you've regained your touch on the green, too?

PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, so far. I made, some, changes, I tried to weaken my right-hand grip putting, and I did that for about four weeks at home. Really, nothing was happening and I just kind of just stood there one day and said, well, what if I do just the opposite and kind of cranked it under pretty far. I held it -- actually held the blade a little more steady. So far the first two tournaments, I putted exceptionally well.

Q. Talking about a wedger's paradise, you go to Indian Wells tomorrow.

PAUL AZINGER: If I hit the ball off the tee, I should have a bunch of wedge chances. It's not a gimmee there. It's short and you can do it. You can shoot a really good score there but it's not a gimmee, either. If you don't hit the ball in the fairway there, you get lapped. I've still got a lot of hard work to do there.

I read a little article about the tournament possibly leaving Indian Wells, and I hope that never happens. I think just traditionally and historically, we all play Indian Wells and I'd hate to see us move onto a longer course so golf on TV could be more boring. (Laughter.)

Q. When you were at your worst and at rock bottom last year, how scared were you that you were not going to get it back?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I saw no hope, really, no end in sight. I worked with several different guys and nothing was really helping. Plus my back was killing me.

So, it's just one of those things. I just was willing to plug along and then I hooked up with this Jim Hardy fellow who really told me some things that were a little bit different and I thought correct and I believed him, and so far, I've played a lot better.

Still, if I wasn't putting better, I can always hit it way better, but I'm putting a lot better, too, so that makes a big difference.

Q. So to come back this quickly from rock bottom, that's a pretty quick turnaround given what we've seen from some other guys recently.

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I guess having a four-shot cushion on last place versus where I am now is a pretty big comeback, I agree, but I'm not all the way back to where I want to be.

I've had some signs of some pretty good golf. Since I got sick, I had one decent shot at a major tournament and I lost the Masters by three, the year Mark O'Meara one but other than that, it's been pretty much famine. I won Hawaii out of nowhere with a hot putter there and that really kind of restored some confidence, and I played good and made like 25 cuts in a row or some nice streak going there for a pretty good stretch. Then all of a sudden when it started to go south, it got really ugly.

I remember distinctly trying to move closer to the ball and stand taller, and that was the beginning much my demise. So now what I've done is not necessarily move too much farther way, but certainly bend over more. Not only was moving closer to it causing me to hit some blocks, it was also hurting my back and I'm not doing that now.

Q. So that was the main change was the ball position or your position over the ball?

PAUL AZINGER: The main change was my position over the ball. He got me to understand that I needed to bend over more from the waist and look more like I used to look. I used to always have poor posture and was bent over, and it never looked pretty, but it was functionally something that I had to do in order to make contact. 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 and I hit thin fades and duck-hooks. It was just awful. I couldn't do anything.

As soon as I bent over from the waist, all of a sudden I felt it instantly. I felt the freedom of my upper body and I my shoulders were able to move a little less restricted. Instead of my right shoulder crashing into my hips, my right shoulder is now even farther from my hip on the way down.

Q. Was the bad back causing the bad swing or was the bad swing causing the bad back?

PAUL AZINGER: My back has been dicey for a long time, but I feel like, for sure, moving closer to the ball and standing taller was what was causing my back to crash. It was my low back.

Since I've moved over the ball more, more on top of it, I've had absolutely zero discomfort. Within three days, my low back pain completely went away. And so I've been probably almost four and a half months, the first time I worked with Jim Hardy when I have not had any back trouble at all.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Paul, for joining us and we look toward to talking to you this weekend.

End of FastScripts.

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