The 143rd British Open begins Thursday at Royal Liverpool in England. It's only the second time in the past 47 years the seaside course has hosted the Open Championship. The other time was 2006, when Tiger Woods scorched the course by shooting 18 under and winning by five shots over Ernie Els and a stunning 17 shots ahead of third-place finisher Mark Calcavecchia. We get you ready for the Open with this Two Cents preview, including a Q&A with Bradenton's Paul Azinger, who will be the lead analyst on ESPN's coverage of the season's third major tournament. Azinger, 54, won the 1993 PGA Championship and nearly won the British Open in 1987.
How did you like playing in the British Open? You almost won your very first one in 1987. You tied for second, right?
That was my best chance to win it. I played it several times. It's a unique event. It's a different event for Americans because of the time-zone change. One of my great weaknesses was my inability to travel well. I never traveled that well. Americans now go over a week or so early, and I think that is really smart.
Some think it's the best major. What makes it so special?
The fact that it's the oldest event. You have the history, the tradition. You have a regular rotation of golf courses. If you watched it a lot over the years, you start to become very familiar with the courses. And the links-style golf course makes it so uniquely different. And it just feels different.
And ESPN tries to bring that to the viewer, right?
I really do believe that ESPN's current presentation of the event has really helped to magnify its stature. It's a year-long effort. We only do one full event a year now, and they pour their heart and soul into it. … We love it, and I think the viewers appreciate the effort.
As lead analyst, you have some long days ahead of you, don't you?
I can honestly tell you that I have never felt exhausted. I've never felt dread that this is only the beginning of the day. I've always gone into that broadcast booth full of excitement and enthusiasm. It's like I have the privilege of calling the event and I look forward to seeing what's going to happen, just like a fan. The first two days are more difficult because there is no story to be told yet. But Saturday and Sunday go by so fast and are the most fun because stories begin to unfold. I love what I do.
But you're still a young guy. Do you miss playing?
Well, I'm 54 now, and I went into the broadcast booth when I was 45, I think. I kept my (PGA) card the first year I was a broadcaster. Then we won the Ryder Cup and I was captain (in 2008). Then I had a couple of motorcycle accidents that really set me back, and I didn't play. I still have severe numbness in my left foot. And I broke my left shoulder. And it's very difficult for me to think I could still play on a high level. But I'm thrilled to transition into the broadcast booth. I don't think there's anything I can prove on the Champions Tour as a player that hasn't already been proven on the regular tour. I have a zillion hobbies, and I love waking up in the morning and heading to the back porch and drinking coffee. I just love my life right now. I'm happy in my noncompetitive second life.
What else do you want to do?
I think I'm ready to phase into my career as an instructor. I definitely want to divide the golf swing into fundamentals and fingerprints. The case could be made today that the majority of instruction has created confusion. Instruction seems to be more of an opinion and more of an interpretation, but in reality there are three things that everyone who is in the Hall of Fame or plays really well does.
And those are?
Well, two of them relate to the lower body, and beyond that, I only share it with my students. (Laughs)
Let's talk about Tiger Woods. Where is he as a player now?
I think Tiger is dealing with an emotional aspect in his career right now. The emotions are tied up in a lot of the things that have gone on that are well documented in the past few years, or back to whenever he hit the fire hydrant (2009). You're talking about a Tiger Woods who would never miss a putt within 3 feet and now misses them quite often. That, to me, is a mental issue. And that's different than emotional. Put it this way: He doesn't hit the 3-foot putts as if his life depended on it, whereas before, he gave it that kind of attention.
And he has been hurt a lot, too.
Now he is dealing with catastrophic injuries, career-threatening injuries, and that just adds to the melee. But I think he has brought a lot of this all on himself, and here's why: I do believe that the biggest difference between Tiger and Jack (Nicklaus) is you never heard Jack talking about making all these changes in trying to get better. But while Jack made little tweaks and twerks periodically, I think Jack recognized that he didn't need to get better. He just needed to not get worse. I think in Tiger's quest to get better — when he didn't need to get better, he just needed to stay the same — he actually got worse. Think of this: When Jack was 38 years old, everyone still wanted to hit it like Jack if you're trying to play golf for a living. I don't know anybody that says they want to hit it like Tiger (now) if they are trying to play golf for a living.
Has he lost it?
I don't think Tiger has lost it.
But he seems to have a crisis of confidence, no?
Well, one of the biggest differences between Tiger now and Tiger then is confidence, self-assuredness. Everybody goes through that. Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus. Everybody loses confidence at some point, but you can get it back in a blink of an eye.
What are your thoughts on Royal Liverpool?
I've never played it, but I went around it after the U.S. Open. I've driven around it in a cart and walked it several times. It's not a very difficult golf course. It was green and lush when I was there a few weeks ago. Now, it could get bone dry and brown, and it would have more difficult greens. Either way, however, it's not hard. It will require bad elements for high scores. The scores will be low if the winds aren't high.
Five players to watch at the British Open
"Lefty" is the defending champ and came close to winning two other times in the past three years. His long game is well-suited for Royal Liverpool.
The German with the cool demeanor won the U.S. Open by eight shots. He has won 11 times on the European Tour, showing his comfort on that side of the pond.
The current best player to never win a major has to win one sooner or later, doesn't he? The Spaniard has finished in the top 10 at the Open seven times, including three times in the top five.
Looking for his third major win, McIlroy is starting to resemble the old Rory again. (Well, the old as in a couple of years ago.) He has had two top-10 finishes in his past three majors.
One of these days Tiger is going to win another major. Right? Right? Coming off a back injury, there's no reason to believe he will do damage in this major, but he's Tiger. You have to include him in the conversation.
tom jones' two cents