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'Zinger's Game Is Showing More Zest

Golf: Winless since '93 PGA and bout with cancer, he continues to make major strides as 68 attests.

August 14, 1998|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

REDMOND, Wash. — There may come a day when Paul Azinger can shoot a two-under-par 68 and get close to the lead in a major like the PGA Championship and no one asks him about his bout with cancer.

Azinger missed nearly all of the 1994 season after he underwent surgery and chemotherapy to treat the lymphoma that doctors discovered in his right shoulder.

The 38-year-old from Bradenton, Fla., has won 11 tournaments, but none since 1993 when he won three times, including the PGA Championship. But 1993 means something else to Azinger . . . it was when he learned he had cancer.

Azinger has had eight top-10 finishes since 1994, but three of them have been this year--including a fifth-place finish at the Masters. He birdied two of the last three holes Thursday at Sahalee Country Club to stay within two shots of the lead in the 80th PGA Championship.

Afterward, he was asked how far he thinks he has come since the cancer. Azinger smiled thinly.

"How far along have I come? Let's see. That's the nine-millionth time I've been asked that question. I'm 86 percent--86.4 percent back. No, I'm kidding.

"This is the best I've played since I've come back."

Azinger said he's getting the ball in the air better, but his putting has really come around and that's made the biggest difference in his game.

It's been five years since he last won, which is also the last time he received attention for what he's done on the golf course. Azinger knows exactly what he's been missing.

"Well, the thrill of it all, really, the adrenalin rush you get to be there. When you win a golf tournament . . . you're the best in the world for that week. And when you're just a middle-of-the-pack player and you're used to being on that other level, it's kind of dull to be just out there with no chance to win."

Along with the questions, that may be changing for Azinger too.

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