'He knows this course better than any of us,' Irwin said. 'Tom will know when you might underplay a shot so you have a putt uphill. Those are things that we're still trying to pick out.'
Watson, meanwhile, favors Irwin at the Bayer Advantage Invitational at the National in suburban Kansas City.
'He's the man to beat. Every tournament he's in, Hale's the man to beat,' Watson said. 'Hale keeps himself in great shape. He hits the ball so straight that this course fits him.'
Whomever wins the tournament will likely have to shoot a low score to do it.
Steady rain on Wednesday and Thursday has left the course soggy and vulnerable.
'I haven't been out there (Thursday), but I've got to assume that it's very wet,' Irwin said. 'When it rains, the course plays longer, but also wider. The greens are more receptive, so the ball will stay where you put it.'
Last year's winner, Jay Sigel, shot an 11-under 205. That might not be good enough this year.
'Because we've played it one year, I think the players are more familiar with it,' Irwin said. 'So the scores will go down a shot or two. I think you'll have to shoot four-under each day to have a chance.'
Watson also expects the rain to bring scores down.
'You can shoot it right at the hole and the ball will stop,' he said.
The statistics prove Watson's point about Irwin being the favorite.
He is among the leaders in all the right categories. He's fourth in scoring average (69.85); third in greens in regulation (73.8 percent), driving accuracy percentage (81.0) and birdie average (4.15); and second in putting average (1.735).
Irwin is leading the race for Champions Tour player of the year with 1,608 points. Gil Morgan is second with 1,114.
Morgan leads the money list with $1,049,791, but Irwin is not far behind at $998,502. And Irwin has reached his total in 11 events to Morgan's 13.
'I'm a better player now, because I have more shots and I know when to hit them,' Irwin said. 'A shot may look inviting, but I'll know that I'm not capable of hitting that shot that day, so I adjust.'
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