ESPN's roster includes a host of major champions, but one outshines the others. Paul Azinger indisputably is the star of this show.
He has detractors, no doubt, and surely causes eyes to roll with statements like this, from Thursday's British Open telecast: "[Phil Mickelson] might end up being the worst short putter in the entire Hall of Fame."
But he is ESPN's most opinionated and observant analyst. He pondered what others no doubt were thinking on Friday afternoon: "I wonder how Ernie [Els] feels playing with these two young-like whippersnappers, kind of the new era of golf, if he feels old today, having played kind of poorly."
Els, 41, and in the process of missing another cut (his second in a row in a major and third in his last five), was playing with Rory McIlory and Rickie Fowler, each 22 and in contention at the midway point of the British Open.
But then he added this about McIlroy and Fowler: "[McIlroy's] big and powerful. Rickie's very small. Plays a different style of game."
Say what? McIlroy is 5-10 and 160 pounds, Fowler 5-9 and 150 pounds. If they were wrestlers, they'd be in the same weight class.
Presumably he meant that McIlroy plays a power game and Fowler does not. But Fowler is 20th on the PGA Tour in driving distance. McIlroy is longer, but Fowler is not a short hitter.
The media roundup from Friday:
-- Azinger noted that Luke Donald was the top-ranked player and the hottest player in the world, despite missing the cut at Royal St. George's, but questioned the validity of the World Ranking.
"I'm not sure the World Ranking identities the best player in the game of golf right now," he said. "It's identifying the hottest player. Until somebody can stay on top of that ranking for a significant amount of time I just think it's going to be hard to say, 'You are the best player in the world.' It was initially for marketing purposes, created by a management company that wanted to promote their players."
That was IMG, which launched what then was called the Sony Ranking in 1986. IMG represented Greg Norman at the time. Norman was No. 1 for 331 weeks, a staggering number before Tiger Woods came along and held No. 1 for 623 weeks.
-- Azinger on Robert Rock: "Wind's blowing close to 20 miles an hour and not a hair on his head is moving. Finest hair in championship golf history."
-- Another attempt to analyze Phil Mickelson, this one courtesy of Tom Weiskopf: "I think Phil plays his best when he tries to control the ball, where it's more of a three-quarters shot instead of full-bore all the time. Right there, he stayed down and through. He tends to stay on that right side a little too much and hangs back at times."
-- Can a generalization be made about the professional golfers of an entire country? Curtis Strange made one, after Japan's Tetesuji Hiratsuka holed a bunker shot at the eighth hole.
"The Japanese were always excellent bunker players," Strange said. "Always had upright swings. Could go down behind the ball more steeply than some."
How do you quantify that?
-- BBC Sports' Rob Hodgetts: "Much as I love the man, especially after seeing his ace, if Tom Watson's smile gets any wider it will join up behind his head."
-- Azinger: "Sergio is starting to look ripped. That's a tight shirt."
Scott Van Pelt: "It's a boys small."
-- Nice bit of info from Olin Browne, noting that the same rules official was with Dustin Johnson on Thursday and Tom Watson on Friday, when both made aces.
The official was Richard Sutter, a senior member of the Royal & Ancient Championship Committee.
Mike Tirico followed with the logical question: To whose group will he be assigned on Saturday?
-- Dan Jenkins on Twitter: "After 36 holes of the Rory & Rickie Show, they're both even par in the continuing race to become the next Justin Bieber."
-- John Strege
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