Capt. Azinger talks Faldo rivalry, Ryder Cup

Capt. Azinger talks Faldo rivalry, Ryder Cup

Paul Azinger, captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, is in the field this week at the PGA.
Kiichiro Sato/AP

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Paul Azinger called Nick Faldo something that rhymes with “Nick” just before the Masters in April. Since then, Azinger has been doing his best to keep a low profile — especially when there are European and British media in the room.

But Azinger, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, put on his game face Wednesday and took the stage at Oakland Hills to await the follow-up questions to his infamous ‘P’-word quote, which ran in the British tabloid Mail on Sunday.

“Well, I regret saying that,” Azinger said. “I was referring to two different Nicks, and, you know, there’s the old Nick and the new Nick. But we get along fine. If you want to make a big deal out of it, you can, but I think it’s a fairly dead issue between the two of us.”

The rivalry between Azinger and Faldo, the old Nick, goes back to the 1987 British Open, where Azinger finished bogey-bogey and Faldo won by a shot. Faldo is reputed to have said: “Tough luck, old chap” to Azinger, who didn’t take too kindly to his tone.

At the 1993 Ryder Cup, when Azinger holed a 10-footer for half a point against Faldo in the singles matches, he said: “I had cancer, and he still couldn’t beat me.”

Azinger said Wednesday that it was not a two-way spat. “The rivalry I had against Nick was all one way,” Azinger said. “He probably didn’t even know I existed. There was a little ill will, maybe. I still enjoy trying to wind him up. But I don’t think he tries to wind me up. I gave him plenty of opportunities when we were in the commentary booth together.

“I thought it was fun,” Azinger continued. “We weren’t a comedy act, but I miss it.”

Azinger said he has been struggling to sleep because he has been so busy analyzing stats and thinking about his captain’s picks. But he hasn’t failed to notice the strength of the Europeans, especially since Padraig Harrington played his way onto the team by winning the British Open again.

“Look at that list,” Azinger said. “It’s a scary looking team. Their players are fantastic.”

And it hasn’t escaped his notice that there are also some fantastic players still struggling to qualify. “It’s harder for Nick to leave out two from Casey, Poulter, Sergio and Monty,” Azinger said. “The European press is so much harder. He could get tabloided to death. For me, it’s not a case of, ‘Oh my gosh, why did you not pick that guy?’ But for Nick, it might be.”

As for his own team, Azinger said: “They are all big boys. I’m not going to be holding anybody’s hand. They all shave — well, maybe not Anthony Kim.

“I don’t think I can screw anybody up saying something stupid.”