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Cancer Is Discovered in Azinger’s Shoulder - Golf: Lymphoma found after player had pain during Skins Game. Doctors optimistic about a full recovery.

RANDY HARVEY, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul Azinger, who beat Greg Norman in a playoff to win this year’s PGA Championship and dueled Nick Faldo to a standoff in the Ryder Cup, is battling lymphoma, a form of cancer.

“The expectation is for total cure,” said Dr. Lorne Feldman, co-director of oncology at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood. Feldman will join Dr. Frank Jobe in supervising the golfer’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

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Azinger’s condition was diagnosed as lymphoma after he was treated at Centinela by Jobe, an orthopedic specialist, for shoulder pain that caused the golfer discomfort during the recent Skins Game. The lymphoma was discovered in a small portion of his right shoulder blade.

Feldman said that although the presence of lymphoma in bone is rare, occurring in only about 5% of the cases, the cure rate for Azinger’s particular form of cancer is about 90%.

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“The cancer is localized, and there is no evidence of any spread beyond the right scapula,” Feldman said.

Azinger, 33, will receive six chemotherapy injections, one every four weeks, before undergoing five weeks of daily radiation therapy.

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In a statement released by his management company, Azinger said: “My doctors are very optimistic that they have caught this early enough so that a full and complete recovery is expected. I plan to be hitting golf balls again in about six to seven months, and I am looking forward to defending my PGA Championship.”

The 1994 PGA Championship is scheduled for Aug. 11-14 at Tulsa, Okla.

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Until the 1993 PGA at Inverness in Ohio, Azinger was recognized among his peers as “the best player never to have won a major championship.” He corrected that by shooting a three-under-par 68 in the final round to force a playoff with Norman, who missed a four-foot putt on the second extra hole, enabling Azinger to win with a par.

That was one of three victories this year for Azinger, who earned $1,458,456 in 24 official tournaments to finish second behind Nick Price on the PGA Tour’s list of money winners. Beginning in 1987, when Azinger was the PGA of America player of the year, he has won tournaments in seven consecutive years, the longest streak on the tour.

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Another highlight of Azinger’s 1993 season came during the Ryder Cup at Sutton Coldfield, England, where he matched Europe’s best player, Nick Faldo, shot for shot, with birdies on three of the last four holes, in a memorable opening-day foursome contest. That enabled Azinger and his partner, Fred Couples, to finish even with Faldo and Colin Montgomerie. Azinger’s singles match against Faldo on the final day of the United States’ two-point victory also ended in a draw.

“Paul epitomizes the spirit you want and expect from a great player,” Tom Watson, captain of the 1993 Ryder Cup team, said from his home in Mission Hills, Kan. “It is his spirit that sets him above other players in the game. His faith and his spirit will pull him through.”

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Said PGA Tour Commissioner Deane R. Beman: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul and his family for a complete and speedy recovery. The doctors expect a total cure, and, obviously, we’ll do whatever we can to assist Paul in reaching that goal.”

According to the American Cancer Society, about 22,000 Americans die each year from lymphoma. The overall cure rate is about 50%, but some forms of the cancer are more treatable than others.

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Professional golfer Gene Littler was found to have lymphoma in 1972. He returned to the tour after the cancer went into remission and is still active on the senior tour.


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