By Steve Keating
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Paul Azinger has not backed down from recent comments that some felt were disrespectful of the European Tour, saying there is a reason the PGA Tour attracts virtually all the game’s top players.
As Briton Tommy Fleetwood contended in the final round of the Honda Classic 10 days ago, Azinger commented on how despite winning five times on the European Tour it would be a huge deal for the player to break through on the U.S.-based PGA Tour.
“There is a lot of pressure here (on Fleetwood),” Azinger said in his role as NBC analyst.
“These guys know, you can win all you want on that European Tour, the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour.”
Those comments drew quick responses from European stalwarts Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, who took Azinger to task on social media.
“Paul please do not condescend or disrespect the European Tour and our players like that. We have slapped your arse in Ryder Cup for so long,” tweeted Poulter.
Former world number one Westwood said: “One minute Paul walks down the range wishing you good luck before you play, the next he’s condescending to the tour you play on and disrespects the tournaments you’ve won around the world.”
But an unrepentant Azinger stood by his comments on Wednesday.
“It’s a big deal if you can win on the PGA Tour. That’s why these guys are here,” the 1993 PGA Championship winner told Sky Sports on the eve of the Players Championship.
“I wasn’t trying to insult anybody playing in Europe. I know how hard that is. It’s a pretty big leap to say I don’t respect what those guys did on that tour.
“But truth be told, these guys only choke for two things, and it’s the money and prestige and we’ve got both here.”
Azinger said Fleetwood was one of his favorite players, and that he had been quietly wanting him to win the Honda.
South Korean Im Sung-jae prevailed and Fleetwood finished equal fourth after carving his second shot at the final hole into water.
“It broke his heart, I know it did,” said Azinger of Fleetwood. “It’s a tough moment and he’s going to have to live with that.
“There are no guarantees you’ll ever win on this tour. You’ll get a finite amount of chances.”
(Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond)