Davis Love III has won this tournament four times. Johnny Miller won it twice, Fuzzy Zoeller twice, Tom Watson twice, the late Payne Stewart twice. Other champions include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo. But Irwin won it over a period of 23 years, by far longer than anyone else.
Irwin managed to defeat Nicklaus and Palmer for his first Hilton Head ' and PGA Tour ' victory at age 25. Thats not bad company for 1971. And when Irwin was almost 49, he won the tournament the last time. He had to defeat one of the premier golfers of the time, Norman. Norman had just completed his demolition of the TPC at Sawgrass at the Tournament Players Championship and was a top-heavy favorite.
But Irwin showed that you can out-finesse the Hilton Head course, shadow-boxing all the way to victory. Only Art Wall (51) and Raymond Floyd (49) were older winners in the history of the PGA Tour.
In 1994, Irwin wasnt looking too good after six holes on Sunday. He already had three bogeys and was 2-over for the day after starting the final round with the lead. And looking for all the world like a potential winner was Norman, who had three birdies in his first five holes.
The first six holes, I buried myself, said Irwin, I had not one foot, but both feet in the grave.
Then, somehow, the vault opened.
Irwin righted the ship, while Norman was about to shift into neutral. After the three early birdies, the Shark endured a most un-Shark-like final 13 holes with no ' nada ' birdies.
After the sixth hole, Norman was three shots in front. But from the early 2-over nightmare, Irwin played the final 12 holes in 8-under.
Irwin tied Norman with a birdie at 14, making a 10-foot putt. He got a nose in front on 15 with another birdie, hitting a sand wedge to two feet on the par-5 hole. And he poured it on at 16, nearly holing a pitching wedge from 120 yards, settling for another birdie
Sixteen didnt lock the door, but it was awfully close to it, Irwin said.
Fourteen, 15 and 16 were the key holes, said Norman. I knew Hale had tied me on 14. I knew I had to birdie two of the last four, and I couldnt do it.
Irwin set a Harbour Town scoring record of 266 in winning, since broken by Loren Roberts with his 265 in 1996. And Irwins next win would be on the Champions ' nee Senior ' Tour, where he had now rung up 36 victories. And he started right away. Recording the first one year after his win at Hilton Head ' the Champions Tour Ameritech Senior Open in 1995.
But Hilton Head will always be special to Irwin.
I remember driving to the Savannah (Ga.) Airport in 1971 and feeling, Im a winner! he said immediately afterwards. All of those things we sometimes take for granted.
Today, I harkened back to the 90 U.S. Open (which Irwin also won), and thought Id just take it one shot at a time I let myself fall out of that. I kind of thought if I could shoot 68, somebody ' Greg or Russ (Cochran) ' would have to shoot 66 to beat me.
That was my goal, and I got it.
Twenty-three years between the first and last, 20 victories in all ' and three U.S. Open victories. Its mind-boggling, said Irwin.