Irwin Seeking Record Seventh Win at Turtle Bay

By Sports NetworkJanuary 26, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 Turtle Bay ChampionshipKAHUKU, Hawaii - Most legends on Oahu's North Shore are made in the huge waves that roll in every winter. Hale Irwin has created his own legacy along the shore on the Paspalum greens.
Irwin goes for an unprecedented seventh victory in the Turtle Bay Championship, the Champions Tour's first full-field event of the year.
He won the 2005 tournament to become the first player to win a PGA Tour-sanctioned event five straight times. He also won in 1997 when it was played on Maui, finished second in '96 and tied for third in '99.
'Hale Irwin seems to have a monopoly on this golf course,' Jim Thorpe said. 'He can tell you what time the grass grows on the greens.'
Irwin has earned more than $1.3 million in the event, for an average of $132,773 per start. Of his 30 rounds here, Irwin has been in the 60s 19 times and has only two rounds above par.
Despite the dominance, Irwin said: 'I'm coming in here like I've never been here before.'
'I want to take an open-minded approach -- not what I've done in the past and not what I really need to do tomorrow, but what I need to do today,' he said. 'Try to keep it as simple as I can.'
The three-time U.S. Open winner also is seeking a two-week Hawaiian sweep after winning the season-opening MasterCard Championship on Sunday, beating Thorpe and Tom Kite by five strokes for his tour-record 45th victory and the first in 15 months.
Coming off his first winless season in 12 years, the 61-year-old Irwin found his old form and closed with a 7-under 65 at Hualalai for a 23-under 193 total to become the sixth-oldest winner in tour history.
'Hale just put a major whoopin' on us, man,' said Thorpe, who won the 2006 season-ending Schwab Cup Championship. 'When he gets that three- or four-shot lead, we kind of feel we're playing for second or third.'
Loren Roberts snapped Irwin's Turtle Bay streak last year and completed the Hawaiian sweep, holing a 9-foot eagle putt on the final hole for a two-stroke victory over Scott Simpson.
Roberts finished with four victories, falling just shy of Champions Tour player of the year Jay Haas as the leading-money winner. Irwin, meanwhile, earned $808,144 to finish 22nd on the money list, the lowest in his senior tour career.
But Irwin has dedicated himself with a new training regimen and put last year behind him. Others are taking notice.
'He's won so many times and now coming off a win, he's very confident,' Haas said.
Haas, who finished tied for fifth at Hualalai, said Irwin seems more aggressive and appears physically stronger.
Last year, Irwin looked like he was favoring his back and didn't appear he was really going hard, Haas said.
'He looked a little tentative with his swings because I think his back was bothering him,' he said. 'This year, he's seemed to have remedied that and hopefully he'll have another outstanding year.'
The Aloha State has been Irwin's playground ever since he won the PGA Tour's 1981 Hawaiian Open. He has won nine Champions Tour events in Hawaii, racking up $4.1 in winnings, including unofficial money, in the state.
He credits the success to his knowledge of how to handle the tradewinds and tricky greens.
Turtle Bay is not as forgiving as Hualalai with more water hazards and narrower fairways. Winds can also make it challenging.
'We're kind of going from that one-putting mentality last week to more of a positioning game this week,' Irwin said.
The Palmer Course was the seventh hardest on tour last year, with the oceanside layout playing to an average of 73.111. The course is built on a marsh and used by the Army as a landing strip for bombers and housing area during World War II.
Craig Stadler made the trip to Turtle Bay but withdrew from the event because of illness and replaced by Hajime Meshiai. ... Eight players are making their Turtle Bay debuts including Chip Beck, Eduardo Romero, Jack Renner and Peter Jacobsen. ... Following the tournament, the Champions Tour will take a one-week break before beginning the Florida swing, starting with the Allianz Championship.
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