Irwin Finally Back in Winners Circle


MasterCard ChampionshipKA'UPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii -- Hale Irwin did not win a single event in 2006, a first in a season since he made his Champions Tour debut way back in 1995.
It took exactly one tournament in 2007 to restart the streak.
Irwin fired a 7-under 65 on Sunday to cruise to a five-shot victory at the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai. He finished at 23-under-par 193 for his 45th victory on the Champions Tour.
'It's great to be back,' acknowledged Irwin, who pocketed $290,000 for the win. 'Just to get back into the winner's column again and be a noticeable factor at this stage of my career is very satisfying. I'm very proud of what I accomplished this week.'
Jim Thorpe shot a 6-under 66 on Sunday to join Tom Kite, who posted a 5- under 67 in the final round, in second place at 18-under-par 198 at Hualalai Golf Club.
Loren Roberts, who fired a 61 in the final round last year to come from behind and win, had no such magic in him this year. He did manage a 5-under 67 on Sunday and took fourth place at minus-17.
Despite some light pressure on Sunday, this day belonged to Irwin.
He began the final round with a three-shot lead and extended quickly when he sank a 7-foot birdie putt at the first. Irwin birdied the third from 18 feet, then made it two in a row with a tap-in at the par-5 fourth.
Irwin's lead fell back to three as Roberts closed the gap. Irwin rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at seven, but his 4-footer for birdie at the 10th once again gave him a three-shot cushion.
When Roberts birdied the 11th, the lead was two, but when Roberts missed an 8-footer for par at 13, Irwin reclaimed his overnight margin. That would be the closest anyone got to Irwin.
At the par-5 14th, Irwin came up short of the green with his second shot, but pitched to 10 feet. He converted that birdie putt and drained an 8-footer for birdie at the 15th to move five clear.
Irwin did not force anything and came up 25 feet short with his approach at 16. He lagged his putt close to the hole and tapped in for a routine par.
Irwin had the same idea at the par-3 17th when his tee ball landed 22 feet from the stick. This time, Irwin ran home the birdie putt to walk to the closing hole with an insurmountable, six-shot lead.
He drove into the left rough at the last, but knocked his approach to 24 feet. A birdie at the last would have matched Roberts' tournament record of 191, but Irwin ran his birdie putt about two feet past the cup. Irwin's par putt lipped out of the hole, but all that meant was Irwin's huge victory would be five, not six.
'I didn't look at the board all day,' admitted Irwin. 'I don't pay any attention to it. It's an aberration here. I just had a great putting week and that's what you have to do around Hualalai.'
Jay Haas (66) and first-round leader Brad Bryant (70) tied for fifth place at 15-under-par 201. D.A. Weibring and Tom Jenkins both shot rounds of 5-under 67 and shared seventh place at minus-14.
Eduardo Romero (68), Tom Watson (68), Jerry Pate (70) and Allen Doyle (70) tied for ninth place at 13-under-par 203.
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