Paul Azinger called Rory McIlroy’s shot.
And in the process, the NBC analyst questioned a recent TV innovation.
During Saturday play at the WGC-Match Play, the former longtime pro and two of his colleagues had just spent a few minutes talking with a mic’d-up McIlroy on the 6th hole at Austin Country Club. Announcer Dan Hicks asked him about his approach on the par-5. Azinger asked about strategy on par-5s in match play. Analyst Curt Byrum asked about the new, shorter shaft in his driver. McIlroy then took out the AirPods, and he prepared to hit his second shot.
And Azinger analyzed the telecast itself.
“Yeah, I think putting the ear pods in can be a bit of a distraction,” he said. “That’s always the challenge for the guys that have agreed to do that.”
About 10 seconds later, McIlroy hit about 30 yards left of the hole and toward a fan tent. He grimaced. And Azinger doubled-down.
“Again, sometimes it can be a little bit of a distraction, and he’s in trouble now,” he said.
It’s here where we’ll note that, since the Farmers Insurance Open in January, one or two players per tournament have been wearing the mics for a hole. The move has been generally well-received, too, especially by fans, and players are certainly not surprised in doing it. McIlroy, in fact, said as much when first asked about it.
“I think they’ve been great,” he said in early February at the WM Phoenix Open, played two weeks after the Farmers. “… I thought they were very good. It’s very unobtrusive; you just put an AirPod in your ear and just have a chat with the guys in the studio.
“It would take a little bit of convincing for me, but I’d certainly be open to it. But given the last couple of weeks and how well I think it’s been received, I’d certainly be open to it.”
And on Saturday, he did. After his tee shot, he first answered Hicks’ question on the par-5.
“So the wind is completely opposite today than it’s been the first couple of days. … Off the left. It was pretty much down off the right for the first couple days. So a little bit of a different tee shot hitting it off the left, kind of let the wind sort of bleed it back into the fairway. This hole is all about the tee shot. Obviously haven’t hit the tee shot very well here the last few days, but I think this one’s a little bit better, a little bit further right than this morning, so a decent angle, a decent shot into the green.”
McIlroy then answered Azinger’s question on whether he plays par-5s differently in match play, when compared to stroke play.
“Zinger, not really. You pretty much want to get on that tee and make a four whatever way you can. … Especially with this green complex, it’s just sort of you try and get it on the green anywhere, and four is a good score here. And if someone makes a three on you, then you just got to take your hat off to them.”
McIlroy then answered Byrum’s question on his driver. McIlroy had been in a funk with the club coming into the week. He tinkered with it. On Wednesday, he went with both a slightly shorter shaft, and a softer one.
“Yeah, I just got a ton of confidence with it. My bad habit with my swing is I sort of let the club fall behind me in transition, so I feel like with the shorter length shaft, I’m able to keep the club a little bit more in front of me. Which means that I have all the confidence in the world to release it down the line.”
McIlroy then took out the AirPods and played, and his ball finished near a seating tent, and close to a tree.
And he was handed back the AirPods.
Could he explain that mishit?
“Uh, Rory, what happened on the, on the second shot there?’ Hicks asked. “Didn’t come off as you like?”
“Just the wind was off the left, trying to just hit a little bleeder 4-iron in there, and I just double-crossed it,” said McIlroy, who went on to lose the hole after his opponent, Xander Schauffele, birdied, but McIlroy won the match, 1-up. “Right isn’t a particularly good miss to this pin, and I think that was in the back of mind so, yeah, not the best leave. I don’t know where it’s at, but hopefully it’s not right up against the range fence. But hopefully, I can do something with it.”
“Hey, we appreciate the conversation, Rory,” Hicks said. “We’ll let you get ready for your next shot.”
“Thanks, guys,” McIlroy said.