TOLEDO, Ohio – A 66 is an impressive score, especially at a major championship, on a legendary course, and particularly when the player shooting it is a 66-year-old grandfather.
Hale Irwin, a winner of four majors on the PGA Tour and seven more on the Champions Tour, matched his age, shooting a 66 in the third round of the U.S. Senior Open. It marked the second time he had done it in a competitive round on the Champions Tour, including a 65 at the AT&T.
“Any time you can do that when you’re at any age, it’s pretty nice to do. I didn’t even realize it until I was reminded after we finished the round,” Irwin said after finishing up on Saturday. “I was more intent on trying to make that putt at the last hole than anything else.”
Returning to Inverness Club has been a nostalgic trip for Irwin, who won one of his two U.S. Open titles here in 1979.
“It was a little reminiscent of 32 years ago and how I played on Saturday of the Open week in '79,” he said. “I recall starting poorly and having two really, really good middle rounds. Today was similar to one of those rounds in '79. I hit a lot of really good shots. I played well.”
He now stands at 7-under 206 and, as usual, is right in the thick of things.
“I have to shoot this or better probably tomorrow to even have an outside chance,” said Irwin, who began this week with rounds of 69 and 71. “I think I just started a little too far back of a lot of guys– and there’s really a lot of really good players. Not every one of them is going to go out and shoot 74. So I’ve got to go out and play exceptionally well tomorrow.”
No one will be surprised if he shoots his age again.
THE COMMON MAN: The list of top-20 players at the U.S. Senior Open includes many of the most famous golfers of a generation. Their names are well known by even those who don’t follow the game: Mark O’Meara, Mark Calcavecchia, Hale Irwin, Hal Sutton, Bernhard Langer and Nick Price, just to name a few.
And then there was Jeff Roth.
A New Mexico club pro who was a legendary player in his salad days in Michigan, Roth has been the most stunning contender in the 156-player field. After rounds of 68, 72 and 66, he finds himself at 7-under 206, tied for seventh and eight shots back of leader Olin Browne.
He said he was cheered throughout Saturday’s third round by a large contingent of family and friends from Flushing, Mich., just over 90 minutes away from Toledo.
Funny, but he was in a similar situation a year ago. He played in the final group in the third round with Langer. But while Langer pulled away to the win, Roth wilted to a 75. He ended up finishing 17th.
“Everybody’s got that choking point and I managed it a lot better today,” he said. “The interesting thing about it is I really don’t feel any pressure, any nervousness, which is great because now I can go out and play right from the get-go instead of working into the round. I’m getting to that point in my career where, even though I haven’t won a Champions Tour event, I’ve kind of been there, done that on my level. So I’m just playing golf.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Olin Browne didn’t start playing golf until he was 19 but got hooked on the game while attending Occidental College in Los Angeles. He was asked if he had any idea that he’d make a living at the game: “Well, that was getting ahead of myself. I thought I could make out a living on the golf course, and it’s been really fun. You know, I gravitated toward it because I knew what I didn’t want to do and it was to have a regular gig. I just didn’t see myself in that role. I love the challenge of golf, I love how intimidating it is sometimes and how hard it is and how you just keep butting your head against the wall and there’s no reward and you look around for some sympathy from other people and you don’t get any. But I highly recommend it for anybody that wants to try it because for every failure that you get– and it’s 10 to 1 or 50 to 1 or whatever– the successes way outweigh the failures.”
TIMES THREE: Tim Jackson, a Tennessee real estate developer and CPA, has already locked up a three-peat at the U.S. Senior Open.
As the only amateur to make the cut, he locked up the low am title for the third year in a row to match the record held by Vinny Giles.
Jackson shot a 2-under 69 in the third round after two rounds of 72 and stands at even-par 213.
“I’m very honored,” said Jackson, who played at the University of Tennessee and lives in Germantown, Tenn. “Vinny’s obviously one of the all-time greats in all of golf. I have a lot of respect for Vinny and all he’s accomplished and I’m honored to have my name beside his. That’s awesome.”
Jackson has been low am every time he’s played in the tournament, finishing tied for 11th two years ago and tied for 32 in 2010.
“When I first played in this event two years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “When I got here, I saw that my game matched up pretty good with most of the guys as far as my overall game and particularly my short game and my putting, so that gave me some added confidence to compete.”
DIVOTS: At the 14th hole, Damon Green, among the leaders all tournament, grabbed a rake and cleaned up after playing partner Jeff Roth hit out of a greenside bunker. Green knows what he’s doing: He caddies on the PGA Tour for Zach Johnson. … A total of 21 players returned to the course on Saturday morning to complete their rounds because of the almost-3-hour-rain delay early on Friday. The cut was a tournament-record 2-over 144. … There were 39 subpar second rounds, another tournament record. … Hal Sutton had a triple-bogey 7 at the 17th hole in the first round while shooting a 74. Since then, he birdied the hole twice while shooting 67 and 66.