2006: Azinger hopes to let play doing the talking

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Honolulu

Paul Azinger got official notice

Jan. 11 that the job he has held for one year will be over at the end of the 2006 PGA Tour season. Now he must work on keeping his other job as a professional.

As one of two lead analysts on ABC’s PGA Tour coverage, Azinger – along with sidekick Nick Faldo – had begun to redefine the analyst position with humor and insightful commentary. But when the Tour announced its new six-year television contract, ABC and sister company ESPN already had bowed out of the negotiations.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall during the offseason, Azinger made the decision to recommit himself to playing golf instead of talking about it. Coming to Hawaii, Azinger was armed with a new swing and renewed desire to get his game back to the level he had it during the early ’90s, when he finished ninth or better on the money list for five consecutive seasons (1989-93). Azinger’s new swing mainly consists of a setup change that puts him in a better position at address and allows him to put his hands forward more.

“I practiced with a purpose this offseason,” Azinger said. “I don’t have a job in 2007.”

Returning to the Sony Open and Waialae Country Club, Azinger was returning to a venue where he had his last victory in 2000 and where he had his biggest success last year, finishing tied for 17th.

The remainder of the season wasn’t memorable, with Azinger making only 10 cuts in 22 events and finishing 187th on the money list. To play the Tour in 2006, he used a one-time exemption allowed players in the top 50 in career earnings.

Azinger believes that no one – not even Tiger Woods – could have had a successful season last year with the schedule he kept between broadcasting and playing. Now, with his priorities focused on playing, Azinger will spend 2006 fully committed to his craft, as well as fulfilling his contract with ABC.

“I had to talk to Mark (Loomis) about it and he understands that I’ve got to start thinking differently now,” Azinger said of his discussion with ABC’s golf producer. “I’ve got to start thinking like a player. I’ll broadcast, I enjoy it. But I love playing and I want to play. I want to be better than I am. That’s the main thing. I just want to be better than I am.”

At 46, Azinger is under no illusions. He understands that if he can’t regain his past success, his next four years until the Champions Tour will be very difficult.

“You’ve got no tenure unless you won 20 tournaments,” Azinger said. “I’ve got no tenure out here. If I don’t play good, I’m gone.”

– Alex Miceli

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