August 25, 2001
TODD BUDNICK: We welcome Paul Azinger to the NEC Invitational press room today. 65. You started off the day with a bogey on 1. Do you want to walk us through that?
PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, I had a -- you know, just through the week, I hit it reasonably well the first day and yesterday I didn't hit it very good and was lucky to shoot what I shot and today was more of the same starting out. I hit two or three really big hooks yesterday. I have not hooked it all year. I started off today the first hole and hit a big, gigantic hook into the ditch that I didn't know even existed and had I to take a drop and made bogey. But I hit enough good drives that I gave myself some chances. I hit another huge hook on 11. Just terrible shot and made a nice pitch-out. And then got up and down from 50 yards. Hit it a foot. Then all of the sudden, you know it just started to happen. I laid the ball down kind of in line with my ball and behind a tree and tried to see what that felt like and it felt a little more outside than I had been taking it and I hit good shots the rest of the day and starting on about the -- I guess, about the 12th hole or 13th hole, made a nice, long putt for birdie on 12. I birdied No. 2. I hit 4-iron to the right and got up-and-down. Made about a 60 or seven-footer. All pars until 13. I hit an 8-iron about 30 feet to the right. 14, I hit an 8-iron about a foot. 16, I hit 5-iron over the green and pitched back about ten feet short and made that. 17, I hit 8-iron about a foot and a half. So I did hit some good shots coming in. The last hole, guess I birdied that. I hit a good 3-wood, good bounce and it stayed in the fairway and I hit 9-iron in there about seven feet.
Q. Have you had -- you talked that this was a pretty dramatic turnaround within the round itself. When was the last time you had something like this happen and what sometimes turns it around when it does?
PAUL AZINGER: Actually, last week. Wednesday at the PGA was pathetic. The first five holes on Thursday was pathetic. And then something happened on the sixth tee it gradually got better. Saturday was my best day there. I didn't hit it very good the last day at the PGA, but, you know, got off to a bad start, a couple bogeys early and I tried to make it up with any hope of winning. The way the pins were, I just kept making mistakes and shot 4-over. So, it's not that long ago that it happened. The time before that, actually was at the U.S. Open and it was the first day I had gone 14 holes hitting terrible and something dawned on me on the 15th hole and hit it fantastic the rest of the week and finished fifth. So, it is not uncommon for that to happen to me. I wish I was a little more steady in that regard. I guess you just keep grinding away and try to find something. You know, you wake up every morning and it can feel different. Just got to see how many Band-Aids you can put on it. There's some days, some stretches where you're good every day for weeks but I'm not in one of those.
Q. So, you don't know what to expect tomorrow?
PAUL AZINGER: I'm going to go to the practice range and see if what I did the last few holes was for real. It was kind of weird, when I laid the club down, I laid it down about two feet behind my ball on the line I wanted to go. Actually, what I did was, I picked out a tree while the other guys were on the green; we were waiting. When I looked down, it looked -- it just didn't look -- it looked different than when I had been taking the club back. I just took it back more outside so I came back straight. When I hit it, looked up it was going right at the flag. "That's nice. There's something different."
Q. What hole was that?
PAUL AZINGER: I think that was the 14th fairway. The guy -- they were on the green and we were just waiting out in the fairway and I laid my club down behind the ball and there was a tree back behind the green somewhere and I was just trying to look at that. So, anyway I put the club in my bag and waited for them to get off the green and kind of walked in. I wonder if you can legally leave a club there while you're hitting? I don't think so. (Laughter.) That would be helpful.
Q. Are you saying you were -- you felt you were taking it back too far outside?
PAUL AZINGER: I was taking too far in, I think. It might have been a little to the right and too far in. Bad combo. You know, it's just a minor thing you know but degrees and inches in this game is a big difference. It's a game of degrees and inches and just a small little change like that turned out to be really big for me and wedge whether -- I'm going to go hit a few balls and see if it works on the driving range.
Q. I can remember back in '93 at Inverness, maybe the best part of your game that week were the knock down approaches that you were hitting. On the last playoff hole, you zipped one in there, that's basically one thing for you. Has that part of your game ever gotten off track? Is it subject to the same roller coaster ride that you are saying your other parts of the game are?
PAUL AZINGER: For me when I'm going really good, my wedge game is good and if my wedges are not good, then generally my long game is suffering as well so it's important for the wedges to be good. I hit it unreal at that PGA statistically for the week. I was way up in every category. You know, I've probably been just an average wedge player up until about last year, I got decent again. Three or four years before that, I was just very average and that was always what kind of kept me towards the top.
PAUL AZINGER: Those were 8- and 9-irons, not wedges. There's a difference. Big difference in wedges and 8-irons.
Q. So that's the best part of your game today?
PAUL AZINGER: Today it was, yeah.
Q. You said just a few minutes ago, I'm not in one of those stretches, talking about where you were playing well for weeks, yet you are playing pretty well. Do you think, obviously that's a factor in why Curtis picked you, and, you know, if you're not playing all that great, what are you doing?
PAUL AZINGER: Let me just say this. There are times when it's really easy. (Laughs) and then there's times when it's really not easy and right now it's not been very easy for me. Sometimes it's like falling off a log, shooting good scores; you don't feel like you can shoot a high score and there are times when every shot is a grind. I took, you know, some time off. I got sick; didn't get to go to the British. But the stretch before that, I played eight tournaments and my worst finish was 16th. Even in that stretch it, was not always easy. Memorial, I hit it really bad there. I putted phenomenal and my wedge game was great and I finished second but I was really rusty and the next few weeks after that I started really putting it together and then I took this time off. I really wanted to go to the British Open in the worst way and was not able to, and since I've come back, the Buick was rusty and not very good and the PGA was good in spots; I just didn't put it all together. It has not been easy. Every day I go to the range, it's kind of like, what am I going to expect to say. Let's see what happens.
Q. Are you a better battler now than ever before?
PAUL AZINGER: I think, clearly. Because statistically, the amount of cuts that I've made, you know, I said I don't know how many times when I played my best golf. I still missed five to seven cuts a year and I've only missed two cuts since September of '99 and, you know, both tournament, I was sick. I missed the cut by one or two at Phoenix. I had the flu. I missed the cut at Hawaii, this year, defending champion. I wasn't feeling good and had all kind of distractions and stuff. I'm a more consistent player and my bad days seem to be better. I'm able to battle. So, maybe I do battle.
Q. What happened during the British Open? Flu, cold?
PAUL AZINGER: I had some kind of virus or something. I said it was the flu, but I wasn't sure what it was. It wiped me out pretty good. There was six or so, seven days, really where I was in bed. I had my blood work done twice. I was thinking the worst, obviously, because of the way I felt. Then, you know, the blood work came back normal and I didn't know if I had mono or something. I had never been wiped out like that by anything. I didn't have a fever, but it affected me for a couple weeks where I was pretty limited.
Q. You look at the board --
PAUL AZINGER: I don't know what the board looks like, I promise you. I have a general idea.
Q. Tomorrow it looks like a Who's-Who of the game. Most year it is seems to work out that way. There's been a surprise winner, but the best tend to rise to the top of the board on Sunday. Is it the course, the setting, the pressure, the combination of all of the above?
PAUL AZINGER: I think it is a combination. For one, you have the best player here, usually. In the past, it was always past champions, tournament winners. You know, it's hard to get a fluke winner out of tournament winners. Now you have, you know, I guess the dollar amount, the fact that the golf course is what it is; it's a fantastic course and you can't usually flick your way around here with your ball-striking. But the cream rises to the top, I guess most of the time on a golf course that's this tough.
Q. How is the preparation next month? Is it different than preparing for a major? I know you obviously want to get your driver straightened out to use in an alternate-shot?
PAUL AZINGER: I've been driving spectacular since the U.S. Open. This has not been the norm here. I drove it great at Buick and drove it pretty good at the PGA. It is disappointing that I have not put it all together here, but maybe tomorrow will be better. As far as preparation for the Ryder Cup, I will play some alternate-shots with some friends at home and you try to get just comfortable and at that pace. It's a different rhythm. You go a while between shots. You know, you're on the line. I like alternate-shot the best. It's my favorite format. It's a little more pressure, I think. But for some reason, I like it better, I don't know why. I'm not trying to say I like the pressure more because I don't think anybody really likes that but. I do like alternate-shot, so I'll practice a little alternate-shot and mainly just make sure my short game is good and just go there with a good state of mind. I know the course -- I was up last night probably from 2:30 to 5:00 in the morning and couldn't sleep. So I just laid in bed and played The Belfry in my head about ten times.
Q. What did you shoot?
PAUL AZINGER: Well, I don't putt out. (Laughter.) I know what the course looks like. I played two Ryder Cups there. And I played this course a couple times too, but still, nothing could put me to sleep. I need one of those mattresses.
Q. What would it have been like playing alternate-shot with you today?
PAUL AZINGER: It would have been scary. I would have been getting cussed out by my partner probably. It wasn't good. You know, I hit a great drive on the second hole and hit a 4-iron in there, but if I had hit the first tee shot of the day, odd holes, it would have been ugly.
Q. Did you put the driver away today? You said you hit some 3-woods?
PAUL AZINGER: I hit driver on 16 all the way down the hill. Just bombed it even with Ernie Els; so it must have been pretty good and 5-iron over the green so that wasn't bad. I hit a great drive on 13 around the corner, too. But I wanted to hit driver on 14. I wanted to hit driver on 17. I wanted to hit driver on 18 and I just didn't -- I just resisted the urge. I had the biggest hook you've ever seen on 18 yesterday with a driver, and it was so far left that I had a clear shot. You think how far left you've got to be on 18 to have a clear shot; it's over there.
Q. Did you actually fly over the top of the trees?
PAUL AZINGER: My second shot went through the middle of the tree. It bounced through. It was a low, duck hook. It was ugly. Then I followed it up with a first shot of the day today. Same shot. Ernie is probably looking at my like, "ooh."
Q. What was 16 playing today, yardage?
PAUL AZINGER: They moved the tee up. I've never gone for the green, ever. It was a little help, but it's hard to explain.
Q. You hit driver, 5-iron over the green?
PAUL AZINGER: Ernie hit 6-iron. Right on there. Pin-high. Talk to the USGA. Golf ball is going so far. It's just unreal. Ernie says he's maybe gone for the green once or twice ever. I got a new Nike ball this week that's just phenomenal. It spins as much as the one I used -- I played for two years with the same Nike ball. It's the best ball I've ever played. Just unbelievable around the greens, the way it spins, but it wasn't the longest ball. With this new Titleist ball, everybody is hitting way by me. And I went to the Nike guys and said, "Hey, what's going on?" And they said, (winking) "Hey, we've got another ball for you." (Laughter.) Literally it tested longer than the Pro V1 is every aspect. And I said, "Well, I'll try it." And gosh, it's just been unreal.
Q. Can you estimate the distance of the drive on 16?
PAUL AZINGER: You've got about a 60-yard hill; it rolls down, so it's hard to say. I don't know what it played, but I had 202 yards to the front. I don't know how long the hole is.
Q. Do you have to recalibrate all your irons?
PAUL AZINGER: No. The ball with the irons is just minuscule, the difference. But it's quite a ways longer in the air. Even Norman commented quickly the first day how quickly my ball got small because I hit it good the first day. He commented to Tony, first, his caddy. Then he asked me about it on 16. He said, "Do you mind giving some of those?" So I gave him a couple after I got done.
Q. What do you think about the format change for tomorrow, or the scheduling change, I should say? Are you aware of that?
PAUL AZINGER: I don't really mind it. I think that it's hard to wait around until two o'clock every day to play golf. So no waiting around tomorrow. We'll just get up and get right after it. In a lot of ways, that's a lot easier.
Q. Are you going to be able to get to sleep before 5:00 AM?
PAUL AZINGER: Since I didn't sleep last night, I don't think I'll have problem tonight, hopefully.
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