By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) - Jordan Spieth is "the prototype" of the modern-day golfer while Dustin Johnson, "the most immensely talented guy out there who hasn't won a major", needs to take his game to a higher mental level, according to Paul Azinger.
In an interview with Reuters, former United States Ryder Cup captain Azinger also weighed in on the ongoing woes of Tiger Woods, saying he "continues to go in the wrong direction" with his focus on the physical rather than the mental.
"My favorite part about Spieth is that he actually is who we think he is," Azinger said of the newly crowned world number one who produced one of the best major seasons ever by a player during his 2015 campaign.
"He has surrounded himself with good people, he still has his parents involved. He turned pro at 19 -- that's usually frowned upon but he's made the most of it and he's my favorite golfer to watch."
By no means the longest hitter out there, the remarkable Spieth won the first two majors of this year through clutch driving, superb wedge play and brilliant putting allied to a meticulous tournament strategy and unwavering mental strength.
In Azinger's view, the only player who perhaps had a stronger mind than the 22-year-old Spieth at such a young age was former world number one Woods, now aged 39.
"Tiger was probably mentally even stronger, or at least they are on an equal level," said Azinger, a 12-times winner on the PGA Tour who clinched his only major title in the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness.
"Tiger had maybe greater physical skills. He could separate himself with his power. There was a gap between how far Tiger hit it and the next guy. Jordan Spieth hasn't had that ability to separate out like that.
"But Jordan Spieth says all the right things. It's like there is a window into his mind where he articulates his thoughts, how strategic he is. He's a breath of fresh air. He's the prototype, really, on how to go about it."
While Masters and U.S. Open champion Spieth, already a five-times winner on the PGA Tour, looks set to vie with Rory McIlroy for golfing supremacy over the next decade, Woods is going in the other direction.
PLUMBED NEW DEPTHS
A 14-times major champion, Woods plumbed new depths at last week's PGA Championship where he missed the cut in a third successive major for the first time in his career and he has dropped to a mind-boggling 286th in the rankings.
"Where he's making his mistake is in thinking his issues are more physical than mental," said Azinger, who was speaking at the Samsung Experience booth at Whistling Straits, which hosted last week's PGA Championship.
"His distance control isn't good, he's hitting it all over the place, he's not swinging all that well so there are some physical issues there.
"Sometimes you tinker too much and you get to a point where you don't know what's natural any more. He'd be better off with a good conversation right now rather than a lesson."
While Azinger said he would never write Woods off, he found it very hard to watch "the greatest player of this generation" struggling so much out on the course.
"I think it embarrasses him to play like this but he knows deep down inside that he can get it done," said Azinger, who has become one of the most acclaimed golf analysts on television.
"He's just got to figure out what's wrong. I think he's lost and he continues to go in the wrong direction."
Someone else requiring a greater mental focus, according to Azinger, was long-hitting American Johnson who has several times come close to winning a maiden major title.
Johnson blew good opportunities at the last two majors, missing a three-foot putt that would have forced a playoff with Spieth at the U.S. Open in June before frittering away the 36-hole lead at last month's British Open.
"He's probably the most immensely talented guy who hasn't won a major but I don't think he has any real 'choke' in him," said Azinger. "Maybe there's another level he can go to, a deeper level mentally and it might make a difference for him.
"It's the extra mile, if you will, going into more of a trance, a (Ben) Hogan-type trance or a Tiger-type trance or a (Jack) Nicklaus-type. If I were him, I would explore that, I would explore going deeper mentally."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)