Working for NBC television network at the Honda Classic in Florida, Azinger sparked a furore when he was initially talking about Tommy Fleetwood but then also made reference to Westwood, a former world No 1 and winner of 44 titles worldwide.
“You can win all you want on that European Tour, the international game and all of that. But you have to win on the PGA Tour,” said the 2008 Ryder Cup-winning captain at Valhalla in Kentucky.
Azinger subsequently claimed that he “wasn’t trying to be malicious” and “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone”. But, at the same time, he added: “Professional golfers choke for two things: cash and prestige. And the PGA Tour has the most of both.”
Speaking as he prepared for this week’s event on the US circuit, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, McIlroy added his voice to a chorus of criticism of the outspoken American.
“The sentiment is right, as it is probably difficult to win on the PGA Tour,” the four-time major winner told golfbytourmiss.com. “But I find he [Azinger] was very disrespectful, especially to Lee, and given he’s won 44-times around the world and the fact he only recognised two of those wins?
“It does not mean Lee’s other 42 wins were not just as important. Lee’s also a former world No 1 and he’s played a lot of great golf in his lifetime, so he [Azinger] was unnecessarily dismissive of his achievements.
“Tommy also has won three events that have stronger strength of fields than the Honda Classic [the 2017 and 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the 2017 French Open].
“His comments were a little nationalistic, a little ‘America’s the best’ and, yes, the PGA Tour may be the best tour in the world.
“But you can say that and still be complimentary of the European Tour and recognise players like Lee and Tommy have played great golf to get to this level in the States.
“So, I just found him [Azinger] dismissive and disrespectful.”
McIlroy heads a strong field at Bay Hill, where defending champion Francesco Molinari is hoping another strong performance can kickstart things again for him, having not recorded a single top-10 finish since a tie for fifth in the Masters last April.
“I’m a little bit behind where I was planning to be at this time,” said the 2018 Open champion. “The start of the season has not been as good as I hoped for, but it’s only the start.
“There’s been a few physical things and technical things but I’m working through it. I think I’ve got some good planning for the next few weeks building up to Augusta and some good direction to work towards.”
With 2011 winner Martin Laird an absentee, Russell Knox is the sole Scot in the line-up.