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Irwin Finally Getting His Due

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CLEMMONS, N.C. - Players like Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Bruce Lietzke and Fuzzy Zoeller were supposed to slow down Hale Irwin's dominance on the Senior PGA Tour.
 
Guess who's cruising toward another money title?
 
At 57, Irwin is beating the odds on the 50-and-over circuit, playing superior golf when most players his age have faded from contention.
 
Irwin has won three times this year, and he has five second-place finishes and four thirds entering this week's $1.6 million RJR Championship at Tanglewood Park.
 
Some of Irwin's career statistics on the Senior PGA Tour are mind-boggling: He's won 35 times in 178 tournaments and finished second 32 more times. He also has a remarkable 138 top-10 finishes and has missed the top 25 just six times in eight seasons.
 
Irwin also has at least one round in the 60s in 59 of his last 60 tournaments and is a combined 180-under par this season.
 
'Golf is sort of elusive at my age,'' Irwin said Thursday. 'I'm looking for that magic fountain of youth, but it's just not there all the time. You've got to work and you've got to work and you've got to work. That's sort of what I've been trying to do this year: keep myself concentrating on the task at hand and that's to play good golf today, not worry about tomorrow or the (money) race.
 
'If I do that, then things sort of come together a lot easier. If you think of the big picture, you might lose sight of the little picture.''
 
Irwin, who won 20 times on the PGA Tour, has won more than $2.4 million and is $500,000 ahead of Bob Gilder with seven tournaments remaining.
 
Gilder said he's mathematically alive in the money race, but there's not much of a realistic chance of catching Irwin, who won the money titles in 1997 and '98 and has pocketed more than $16 million since joining the tour in 1995.
 
'He's doing a pretty good job of whipping us all,'' said Gilder, who has won four of the last seven events to pull closer to Irwin. 'Last week he came from even par after the first round to 15-under, and he lost by one. The guy is going to be there no matter what. The whole thing is how bad to you want it ' and he wants it bad.''
 
Irwin's peers say his accomplishments rival what Tiger Woods has done on the PGA Tour.
 
'Probably, in his mindset, he has to beat three or four other guys and that's what he's thinking when he tees off,'' said Bruce Fleisher, who beat out Irwin for the money title in 1999 as a rookie. 'That's kind of like what Tiger goes through, and (Jack) Nicklaus in his day. He's the man to beat.''
 
So how has Irwin been so competitive for so long?
 
He's regarded as one of the game's all-time great iron players and he's led the Senior Tour in putting twice. He's in front again in that category this season. There's also Irwin's competitiveness and drive to be the best, to keep plugging away tournament after tournament. And he's in great physical shape for his age.
 
'Hale is one of the greatest competitors I have ever seen,'' Lee Trevino said. 'I don't think he has ever gotten his just due as to how good he really is. Hale is a superstar in my opinion, and nobody has ever put him on that pedestal. Hale's personality has a lot of that killer instinct.''
 
Irwin skipped his induction into the University of Colorado Sports Hall of Fame to play on a course where he's won twice and finished second twice in the last six years. He was also a star defensive back at the university in the 1960s. Irwin said his son Steven will accept his award.
 
'I'm very humbled by it, but here I am,'' Irwin said. 'There is some financial gain to (the money title) and there are some bonuses at the end of the year. Let's not play those down; they are very important. But are they driving my life? Not necessarily. My family is what drives my life.''

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