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TV analyst strives to improve game

Commentator Andy North likes being in the booth and on the course, but would like it more if his game were better.

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2003

LUTZ -- Andy North is a familiar face in the world of golf. If not for his two U.S. Open championships as a member of the PGA Tour, then certainly for his work as a golf analyst for ABC and ESPN.

But on the Champions Tour, North is one of the many players in the shadows of big names like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Hale Irwin. Because of his money earnings during a 27-year PGA Tour career, North isn't fully exempt on the Champions Tour. When he first became eligible for the over-50 tour, he could only play in events by qualifying on Monday or getting a sponsor's exemption.

He did play well enough last season to finish in the top 50 on the money list. That means he can play in most events, but he had to get into this week's Verizon Classic on a sponsor's exemption. In his three years on the Champions Tour, North's best finish is second at the 2001 Emerald Coast Classic.

He put himself in position to do as well or better after Friday's 2-under 69, which was tied for sixth. He was in the second-to-last group today with Tom Kite and former Verizon Classic champion Bruce Fleisher.

"When you make the turn at 3 under you would like to keep something going," North said. "But I had two or three poor drives. I hit it in the water on 12 and took bogey. But all in all it's encouraging, especially because I haven't played too well the last two weeks."

North finished 68th last weekend at the ACE Group Classic in Naples. Two weeks into the season, North is 69th on the money list with $8,560. That's not discouraging enough to have him thinking of a full-time TV career, however.

He plans to play 20 Champions Tour events this season and will do 10 tournaments for ESPN. Next week, North will be an analyst for the PGA's Match Play tournament.

It's a schedule he likes.

"I'm enjoying what I'm doing," North said. "The mix is pretty good. I'd like it more if I did (golf) a little bit better."

After Friday's opening round, North is enjoying being a golfer, especially a golfer in contention. He has overcome six knee surgeries and says he is feeling fine.

He did what he wanted to do on Friday, which was get himself within striking distance, a place he hasn't been often on the Champions Tour.

"Out here, you're talking one shot here or there," North said. "One better putt, one better drive, one better iron shot. That is the difference between a top 10 and twentysomething. The whole key is to get yourself in position to do well on Sunday. If you get yourself there enough times then hopefully something good will happen."

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