Paul Azinger has reached a level that is both fulfilling and frustrating. He has won $6,050,263 in his career, which makes him the richest player ever to have won a major championship. In fact, among the top 10 all-time money-winners, Azinger is the only one without a major.
That is a tag Tom Kite carried around until he won the 1993 U.S. Open. It is not one Azinger wants to wear, but, at least outwardly, he is willing to deal with it.
"I've been thrown into another category, I guess," said Azinger, who lives in Bradenton and has won nine PGA Tour events in his career. He came close to winning the 1987 British Open and the 1988 PGA Championship.
In the U.S. Open, Azinger's best finish was a tie for sixth, in 1988.
"I'm only 33," Azinger said. "I've been exempt for all the majors for about six years. I've had a few chances to win. But I'm very patient with it.
"My main goal in golf is longevity. That is what I'm striving for most. If I'm out here long enough, I'll win the right tournaments. I'm satisfied with where I am."
It has been 11 years since he won the U.S. Open and six years since his last PGA Tour victory. His only win since 1987 came at the 1992 Hong Kong Open. But Tom Watson, 43, has not given up.
"I've dealt with the frustration and become resigned to the fact that I'm not quite the player I was before," said Watson, who was granted a special exemption (along with Jack Nicklaus) into the tournament by the United States Golf Association. "I'm not making excuses, but I didn't play as much or practice as much to stay at the level I was before. But I wouldn't be out here playing, I would have retired, if I didn't think I could win again."
Watson has 32 PGA Tour victories, in addition to five British Open titles.
"This is my favorite championship to win," he said. "It's the most difficult to win."
The United States Golf Association announced sites for two future U.S. Opens. The 1999 Open will be played at historic Pinehurst (N.C.) Country Club. Pinehurst never has staged a U.S. Open. The 2000 U.S. Open will be at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, which had the tournament in 1972, 1982 and 1992. Next year's Open is at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, followed by Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southampton, N.Y.) in 1995, Oakland Hills Country Club (Birmingham, Mich.) in 1996, and Congressional Country Club (Bethesda, Md.) in 1997. The 1998 site has not been announced.
Nick Faldo, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, recently missed a cut on the European PGA Tour for the first time in five years.
"I'm looking for a swing; it's as simple as that," said Faldo, who left his home in England early to prepare last week at nearby Pine Valley. "It's very frustrating. I try this and it doesn't work, so I try that and it doesn't work. There's very little wrong. It's only a fraction out, but I get punished for that fraction. I can't afford that at the U.S. Open."
For the first time, Raymond Floyd lost a golf match to his son, Robert. Although they've played hundreds of rounds together, the younger Floyd never could beat the old man until last weekend.
"The first day, I shot 70 and Robert had 67," Raymond Floyd said. "The next day, I shot 71 and he shot 70."
When Floyd's wife, Maria, heard the news, she told Raymond: "Maybe we've got the wrong guy going to Baltusrol."
Sarasota's Tad Rhyan is playing in his first U.S. Open, and he's gone to his dad for some advice. Dick Rhyan now plays on the Senior PGA Tour and is carving out a pretty good living. After a minor heart attack last year, Dick has come back and earned $92,968.
"We talk three or four times a week and try to help each other out over the phone," said Tad, 29. "Right now, he's playing very well. He's my hero, so how can I not feed off of that?
"He told me to have fun and enjoy the week. He also said to be patient because this was going to be the toughest golf course I've ever faced."
Tad's best finish of the year was a tie for second at the Deposit Guaranty, won by Clearwater's Greg Kraft.
Billy Ray Brown withdrew because of a wrist injury, and first alternate Javier Sanchez of Fayetteville, Ga., took his place in the 156-man field. The USGA has implemented stricter pace-of-play guidelines for the tournament. After a warning, any player who three times exceeds 40 seconds before taking his swing will be assessed a two-stroke penalty.
_ BOB HARIG