NBC Sports and Golf Channel analyst Paul Azinger talks with The Post’s Zach Braziller about the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which begins Thursday.
Q: After finishing second at the U.S. Open and tied for second at the Masters, can PGA champ Brooks Koepka regain his dominance?
A: I have yet to see the course, but that whole links style of golf and the fact his caddie (Ricky Elliott) grew up there (is a bonus). I think he can handle any style of golf. He went the path of, “I’ve got to make a living, I’m going to play anywhere in the world [by playing on the Challenge Tour in Europe].” It gave him some great experience. It’s time to stop overlooking Brooks Koepka. It’s time to stop thinking, “Is this a fluke? Will it come to an end?” It’s time to start realizing he’s going to be around for 20 years. I always throw him in there with the other top-five, 10 names and I throw him in first. When he won the PGA the way he did, he became first on my list every time.
Q: It’s been five years since Rory McIlroy last won a major. What’s holding him back?
A: I think it’s strictly putting and an occasional injury. It all comes down to his putter. He hits it really nice. More powerfully than most. It’s all putting for Rory. If he putts well, he’s almost impossible to beat. It’s normally his total length of putts, and then a key momentum short putt can stop something you got going positive.
Q: Whom do you like to win the tournament?
A: Koepka all the way. He’s the best player. He’s the best player and he’s hitting it the best. Koepka is the man by far. Dustin Johnson I think is next. I think the pressure on Rory is going to hit him one way or the other. Graeme McDowell, he just won to get in, and I’m just going to say that guy is still a helluva player and he’s playing in his homeland. I think he can do it. I’m going with two weight-lifters and two Irishmen.
Q: Do you give any of the college guys who recently turned pro— Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa — a shot?
A: I love Matt Wolff. His game, he’s got a lot of power. What impressed me the most about Matt Wolff is the uniqueness of his swing. I think he’s got a lot of moxie. He feels like a guy who’s going to be a Ryder Cup star. I think what he has is sustainable.
Q: For the first time in 68 years, the Open Championship isn’t in Great Britain. How does that change the dynamic?
A: I think it’s great it’s going to be in Northern Ireland for sure, to show that whole countryside and what that’s all about. They can have the Open in Italy or Spain and I wouldn’t think of the impact of it.