Azinger playing, but focused on Ryder Cup

Paul Azinger
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Paul Azinger

HONOLULU (AP) — Paul Azinger didn't expect to see a large group of Americans lining up at the Sony Open to make small talk, pat him on the back or go out of their way to let him know how well they were playing.

Then again, it's only January. The Ryder Cup is still eight months away.

Azinger is not too far removed from his best golf, the years when he was trying to make an impression on the Ryder Cup captain.

"I think the Ryder Cup is one of those things where you don't start really sugaring up to the captain until midyear," he said with a laugh. "They want to make sure they're playing well before they start sliding up to you. That's always the way I worked my little begging process. Make sure I'm playing good before I beg for what I don't want."

Azinger will have more decisions than any U.S. captain in recent history.

When he took the job in November 2006, he asked the PGA of America to revamp the qualifying system to help get him the hottest players. Along with basing the points on money, Azinger will get an unprecedented four captain's picks.

As for the politicking, it wasn't long before he was proven correct.

One day after he spoke to reporters at the Sony Open, he was walking off the putting green next to Chad Campbell. Someone called out to Campbell and asked if he already was pandering to the captain.

Campbell, who played on the 2004 team, smiled and shook his head.

"I want to see how I'm playing first," he said.

"Told you," Azinger chimed in.

Azinger will try to see as much of it as he can before his team is set for the Sept. 19-21 matches at Valhalla. He had a good view from the broadcast booth he shared with European captain Nick Faldo until ABC Sports stepped away from the table when the new TV contract was negotiated two years ago.

Faldo now seems to spend half his life in the booth with CBS Sports and Golf Channel.

Azinger returned to playing, although not as much.

He finished inside the top 125 on the money list two years ago for the first time since 2002, but he injured his back last summer while trying to move a boat in his garage, and missed the rest of the year. He received a major medical extension for 2008, meaning he has 13 more tournaments to earn $611,111 and finish the year.

That's about all he wants to play.

"If you can't make your money in 13 events, the writing is on the wall: You're not very good," he said.

Even playing such a limited schedule - he has never played fewer than 20 when healthy - his year figures to be busier than ever. He already finds himself consumed with the Ryder Cup, and if that wasn't enough, his oldest daughter is getting married in June.

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