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August 17, 2001

Paul Azinger


JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon again, ladies and gentlemen. Paul Azinger in the second round of the 83rd PGA Championship fires a 67. Paul, if you would not mind going through your round, maybe your card and we'll go to Q&A then, please.

PAUL AZINGER: Okay. What did I do, Julius? I made a bunch of pars, starting out with one short missed birdie putt on 13, about a 3-footer. My first birdie was on 16. I think I hit an 8-iron, probably 15 or 18 feet left of the hole, side-sloper. 18, I hit a 4-iron 20 feet. 1, I hit a 9-iron about seven feet. 4, I hit a chunk, blocked something into the right bunker and blasted out all the way across the green probably 15 feet short and missed it. Just missed another short birdie putt on 5, about a 6-footer I left short. 6, I made about a 20-footer, 25-footer. That was it. I made some putts I didn't think I was going to make and I missed some putts I should have made. Could have hit a few more fairways. I hit a couple -- I hit two or three tee shots that I thought were perfect today that went in the rough, because the fairways are playing faster than the practice rounds. So I feel like I'm driving it, actually, better than my stats will probably show. But green-wise, my iron game is really pretty steady. I hit it awful in the practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday. Something came to me on the sixth tee when I set up over a shot and I've gradually gotten better, as yesterday progressed, and today. I hit it good on the range, and as the day progressed, I felt like I was getting more comfortable and more confident in my release and all that. Hopefully, that will continue. Hopefully, I'll continue to get better as the weekend moves along.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks, Paul. Questions.

Q. Do you have any trouble separating what's at stake here and what's at stake in September at the Ryder Cup?

PAUL AZINGER: I don't have any trouble separating the two, because, I mean, to me, this tournament means a heck of a lot more to me than the Ryder Cup. I'm not slighting the Ryder Cup in any way. But if I were to say to you -- the press for the most part have dubbed Phil Mickelson to never win a major. But if I said to you, what's Phil Mickelson's Ryder Cup record, you would have no idea. But you know I won the PGA in 1993. You know, it's all about winning major championships and the Ryder Cup is a bonus. I know it's there. You know, I would be lying if I said I didn't know that it was there, but I would have to do something spectacular to make the team. Looking at the numbers, I don't know what it would take for me to get in. I haven't studied that or looked at that. I just want to play well here.

Q. We associate your name with the Ryder Cup. You've been called the sparkplug. You were Assistant Captain at the Presidents Cup. You've been just fabulous for the American team. The thought of you not being in the Ryder Cup is hard on a lot of us who have watched when our Captain was in here, Curtis, and we asked him, "What about the Zinger?" And he said, "Boy, that's certainly somebody I'm looking at," and that's when you were in 19th place coming in here. So a Top-10 would certainly make you even easier to consider as one of the Captain's choices. Your thoughts on that?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, you know, a Top-10 would be disappointing to me, unless it was first, I'll say that. I haven't played on the Ryder Cup team since 1993. It did just fine without me last time. But my -- I would like to play. You know, I'm sure there's 100 people on our tour that would like to play. So I'll just do the best I can do to play the best I can in this event, and the Ryder Cup to me is very, very in the back of my mind, but it's like on the back burners. It's not a priority now. My priority is the PGA Championship.

Q. Payne had said that if he were captain, you would be his assistant captain, and I just thought maybe that was a little extra inspiration for you in the Ryder Cup?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I think Payne had a belief that the assistant captain should be a future captain and he was pretty steadfast in that belief. He said, actually, that he would have two assistant captains: He would have made Hal Sutton and myself. Of course, Hal is playing, but I think he was of that belief. That's one of the reasons I think he felt that way, because he felt that it was important for a guy who maybe hadn't been on a few Ryder Cups to get back introduced into that team room mentality and what it took so that his captaincy could be a good one. More so than that, I feel what I have maybe brought to the Ryder Cup, I feel, but I'm reading that wrong. Maybe a dual purpose message he was sending there. You know, I don't even have a winning record in the Ryder Cup. Everybody acts like I was the greatest player in Ryder Cup; I was 6-8. But I did do good in singles.

Q. You've been inspirational to the team --

PAUL AZINGER: That can be overrated, too. In the end, you want the guys who are the hottest, I think, and Curtis is in a situation where Chris DiMarco is red hot. Joe Durant is an incredible ball striker. Brad Faxon is a guy who is hot with experience, shot 66. David Toms has won four or five tournaments since the last Ryder Cup; you could look at Frank Lickliter, Jeff Sluman and Scott Verplank. I'm going to do the best I can. If Ryder Cup happens, great. I'm not on the Ryder Cup, I will not be heartbroken, and I will be back on the couch with my feet up on the air with sweet tea watching it on television pulling for the Americans.

Q. Getting back to this week, is it starting to feel anything like 1993?

PAUL AZINGER: You know what, as far as my game and all, '93 was a little different for me. I was really nervous at the beginning of the week. I knew Inverness very well. I felt like I was going to be in contention. I just had this feeling I was going to be in contention, and the butterflies that come with that I was experiencing on Tuesday, and I know that's early, but that's the way I felt. This week is completely different. I played terrible on Tuesday and Wednesday and it just started to come around the last couple days. I felt good, and think that I can hang on and I really believe that I will continue to hit it better. But, we'll see. Time will tell. There's pressure to factor in, maybe a bad night's sleep, you never know what the next day has in store in this game. As far as '93 and right now, I think it would be really hard to compare the two, except that it was really hot on Sunday in '93. I do remember that. But my game has been a lot more steady than it was ever in 1993. I said earlier to the press out front, in 1993 I had ten Top -3 finishes but I missed the cut seven times. I missed the cut five times the year before that and I've only missed two cuts in the last two and a half years. I'm a different player. I'm more consistent. I'm very committed and totally prepared every time I show up now. I think it's allowed me to be a steadier player and, you know, I just need to get -- I just want to get hotter more often. I would like to get hot more often. That's the difference.

Q. Talking to a lot of the players earlier in the week, there was so much talk about the length of the golf course, a lot of the guys I respect a lot said they didn't think a short hitter over the course of a week could stay there. And I noticed yesterday with Fred Funk and now, Brad and O'Meara had great rounds today. Do you think that is still a factor by the end of the week or do you think the softness of the greens is making a difference?

PAUL AZINGER: I think what's happened is that the fairways have dried out an incredible amount. The ball is rolling. I hit a tee shot on No. 8 today that was 300 yards to reach the bunk iron the right. No way I can reach that bunker on the right. I aimed right for it and my ball rolled nicely into the bunker. If I hit that same drive on Wednesday, it would have been 20 yards short of the bunker, but it rolled 25 or 30 yards. I don't think that length is as much of an issue because the fairways have gotten faster and the fact the greens are holding has made a difference. You just cannot believe the difference, it was all can you remember I, 100% through the air kind of golf course on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dramatic turnaround today.

Q. How about your putting? These first two days looks like it has been pretty solid and good saves along the way. Your thoughts there, please, sir.

PAUL AZINGER: I feel like I've made some putts that I didn't expect to make and I missed some putts that I felt like I should have made. Generally, you know, I wish I could be putting a little bit better. I think when you make the putts that you expect to make, that's when you really feel like you're putting well. I'm not putting poorly in any way, but I have missed a few that I should have definitely holed. So, we'll see.

Q. You say that the Ryder Cup is a secondary issue, and I appreciate that. But it has come to your mind. If you were, say, a Captain's choice, what do you think the intangibles or characteristics that you would be asked to bring to the team?

PAUL AZINGER: I hope you can appreciate me not wanting to answer that because I don't want to lobby for that pick. I've been there and done that with respect to the Ryder Cup, and I don't think it would be fair for me to lobby for that pick. I think that's something that Curtis Strange is going to process himself. I don't want Curtis Strange reading why I think -- what intangibles I think I can bring. He's almost in a no-lose situation, I feel, with the way that it sets up. The only problem that he's going to have is that he's going to disappoint somebody. Whoever he picks, he's going to pick some guys that are hot. He can go ahead and pick two guys that have never been on the Ryder Cup and not get criticized or he can pick Brad Faxon and myself and not get criticized. He can pick a veteran like Sluman and not get criticized. There's a whole slew of players on that list that he can pick. Look, like I said I've been there and I know what the Ryder Cup feels like, but I don't think it would be right for me to say what intangibles I would bring because I don't want to give the appearance that I'm lobbying for that pick because I'm not going to lobby him for it.

Q. You got your first major out of the way a long time ago. Do you think there is pressure on Phil Mickelson to do the same thing?

PAUL AZINGER: Absolutely. It's a compliment in some ways, but it seems to me like the best player to never have won a major should be reserved for a guy who is much older than Phil Mickelson is. That's just the way it is. I read the other day that Sergio is the next best player to win a major. That's crazy. He's 20 or something. You know, I only had to live with it for a very short time and it happened right after I won the Memorial after holing out of the bunker the next week, the question came to me, "Now that you've won the Memorial, you're now the best player to have never won a major." Clearly, he is the best player who has not pulled that feat off, but he will and there's no question in my mind. I think in the end, he's just going to have to cope with that tag and overcome it and until you've pulled it off, you don't know for sure if you'll ever be able to. There's a certain element of luck. You only get four chances a year. You have to peak those weeks you have to hope nobody is hotter than you. There's a lot of things going on for a guy to pull that off, and until he does it, I think, you know, he's going to have to live with it but I really expect him -- if it doesn't happen here, it will happen some day for him, no question.

Q. In the '93 PGA, weren't you then feeling the first effects of your eventual cancer problem?

PAUL AZINGER: I started feeling the sore shoulder in actually June of '93. I had some kind of knotty areas on my bone and it got to the point where I think I won in Boston in July. I was like taking a dozen Advil a day. I remember I could not even put my scoreboard in my back pocket on Sunday. I shot 64 but I couldn't put my scorecard hardly in my pocket. I had this aching pain up here and when I swung the club, I swung under the pain, so it might have made me better. You know, it's documented that I said when I grabbed the trophy and picked it up, you know, it was that heavy because my shoulder was bugging me so bad. Thankfully it hurt. Sometimes cancer doesn't always hurt until it's too late, but it hurt and it hurt for a few months. But, you know, kind of like at least -- if I can say that (laughs) -- I got it checked out.

Q. December, was it?

PAUL AZINGER: Actually it, was, yeah. I think I was at the Skins Game, and I was really hurt. My back had gone out, and really, because my back had gone out so bad, I went to see Dr. Wadkins down at Centilla Hospital and Frank Jobe had been looking at my shoulder and the Friday night of the PGA Championship that I eventually won he said he wanted to do a biopsy two days after the two PGA, and I knew what he was looking for and I was already worried about it. After I won, he called me back and said we can put it off. Fortunately, when my back went out I went down there to see him again and he said, "Now that you're here, let's go another bone scan, MRI," and all that. It just didn't look good to him. Then I got the bad news.

Q. Did it help with your swing?

PAUL AZINGER: I don't know, I'm just being facetious, but the reality is if it was my left shoulder, I could not have played from June on, because it was under my swing.

Q. You said today that something came over you, meaning the -- hitting an iron to the green?

PAUL AZINGER: Yesterday, on the sixth hole I walked into the shot trying to hit a -- my whole attitude into the shot, everything change the. I got a better picture could see the line better. I'm sure it happens to everybody that's ever played the game at some point. Hopefully, something clicked there and it will last. I think it will. But I really struggled Tuesday, Wednesday, to set up to the ball. I was terrible. I was waving at it, wiping across it and it was not good. I crawled into that one shot on 6 and like the light went off and it's gradually gotten better.

Q. What club was it?

PAUL AZINGER: It was a driver.

Q. Obviously, your stories are radically different, but I was wondering, what empathy do you have for John Daly and wherever his comeback is going?

PAUL AZINGER: I think John's doing okay. He wasn't miserable today in his poor play. He didn't try his hardest at the end but I think he felt like he was a burden to the group and wanted to stay out of the way. I don't know anybody out here when a guy is playing really bad that we're thinking, hey, get out of the way. You know, nobody thinks that way. But I think he felt like he wanted to be out of our way. So it shows you either one of two things. Either he was being really considerate or he was insecure, know, in how he felt about the way he was playing. But I think he's really -- he seems to be doing really good to me. He wasn't miserable in his poor play at all. That was good to see.

JULIUS MASON: Questions?

Q. Do you find your perspective different now in this position as compared to what it was in '93 and how so?

PAUL AZINGER: For me personally?

Q. Considering everything you've gone through.

PAUL AZINGER: Well, for a while there, golf wasn't really too important to me, but it is again and I do want to play well. There's not the same urgency or whatever, but I came to this tournament -- I've practiced every aspect of my game, you know, with the desire to do the best I can, which is possibly win. So as far as perspective, there may be a little less pressure on me in this regard. I felt a lot of pressure at the PGA in '93, I promise you. It's self-imposed, but in some respects, being called the best player to never win a major did probably but a little of that on me. So that's not on me now and I don't know that anybody really -- I don't know how many people really expect me to continue to contend this week, I don't know. I don't know. I'm not feeling that burden. I know that the guys who are dealing with the media constantly, they feel a little more burdened.

End of FastScripts...

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