Thursday 27 April 2017

Westwood's Tiger snipe may backfire - Azinger

Britain's Lee Westwood hits the ball during the 73th Italy Open Golf Championship in Monza, Italy. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP Photo
Britain's Lee Westwood hits the ball during the 73th Italy Open Golf Championship in Monza, Italy. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP Photo
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Lee Westwood's suggestion that Tiger Woods could have an 'adverse' effect on American Ryder Cup players for the match at Hazeltine next week has been rubbished by former winning captain Paul Azinger.

Azinger, who skippered the last successful USA team eight years ago, reckons Westwood is stirring the pot with intent, and that it could backfire on the player and on Europe.

The 2008 captain highlighted the intimidation factor surrounding Woods when he was at his peak as a player, and Azinger has no doubt about the ability of the 14-times Major champion to turn on the charm for the team.

Woods, who has been out of the game due to back injuries for almost 18 months, eagerly accepted the invitation of USA captain Davis Love III to sign up as a vice-captain alongside Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman and Steve Stricker.

Azinger's first reaction to Westwood's comments was: "I think those are the kind of opinions that land you TV jobs.

"Also those kind of opinions could motivate the American team as well.

"The times I've been on the same teams as Tiger, he was anything but a divisive figure. He was one of the younger players on our Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams when I played with him.

"He didn't say a whole lot but he was terrific to be around.

"I do see where he might be an intimidating figure, but those comments by Westwood might line him up with a good TV job one day. Those kind of insights get you hired."

That word 'intimidation' required some elaboration from Azinger, who could cut an intimidating figure himself, particularly in Ryder Cup contests.

"It would be like a young basketball player walking in the room and seeing Michael Jordan sitting there. Until you're comfortable with him, you're probably a little intimidated by him, but I think Tiger has this real knack of making people around him uncomfortable if he wants to.

"It was part of Tiger's, I think, strategy overall as a player. He made the announcement early on in his career that he wore red, which was his power colour, on Sunday.

"Tiger wearing black pants and a shirt the colour of blood, they were power colours, so he was an imposing figure, and I think he still can be an imposing figure.

Nicest

"But he also can be the most fun, and the nicest guy in the world too.

"I don't see him as an intimidating personality type in the team room, other than his lore and his past as being invincible, really, as a player.

"I think Tiger's going to be terrific in the team room."

'Zinger', who played four times in the Ryder Cup, winning in 1991 retaining the trophy with a halved match in 1993, knows all about the mind games surrounding the event.

He knows all about Westwood's commitment in the heat of battle and was not surprised at the verbal jabs the Englishman has thrown in the direction of Woods and Team USA.

The question is: has Westwood inadvertently handed the Americans an extra incentive to win this match?

"I don't know about that. I just think Westwood's smart. He likes to put the needle in a little bit once in a while," said Azinger.

"He's emotional. He was the guy that was giving dirty looks to Boo Weekley and JB Holmes in our Ryder Cup. It was captured on TV.

"They showed slow motion of Westwood's glares at those two guys, and him being unhappy with the way they were behaving. That's a purposeful comment by Westwood, in all likelihood. He had intent there, and that intent could backfire."

Paul McGinley, the winning European captain at Gleneagles, is not alone in wondering about the wisdom of Love waiting until half-time in NBC's 'Sunday Night Football' broadcast of the Chicago Bears v Dallas Cowboys match.

"I think it's a terrible idea," said Azinger.

"We're going to announce the final player, arguably the worst player on the team, on the biggest stage. I just don't understand it.

"I think they should do it five minutes, or ten minutes after the press conference with whoever wins the Tour Championship, and let's get ready to rock and roll.

"But they're not going to do that and I don't like it."

'Sky Sports Ryder Cup' will be the exclusive home of the competition from September 26. Sky TV customers can upgrade to Sky Sports for just €20 per month via the red button.

Irish Independent

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