Irwin Outduels Kite for Record Win

By Sports NetworkOctober 12, 2003, 4:00 pm
KAHUKU, Hawaii -- Hale Irwin erased a three-shot deficit Sunday and outdueled overnight leader Tom Kite to win the Turtle Bay Championship. Irwin carded a 5-under 67 to finish the event at eight-under-par 208, two clear of Kite.
With the victory, Irwin becomes the first player in Champions Tour history to win the same event four consecutive seasons. He has now won this tournament five times, becoming the first player in Champions Tour history to accomplish that feat. He had been tied with Jack Nicklaus as the only four-time winners of one event.
Irwin joins Tiger Woods, who has won Bay Hill four consecutive times, Walter Hagen, who won the PGA Championship four times in a row, and Gene Sarazen, who won the Miami Open four consecutive times, as the only players to win the same event four straight times. Hagen and Sarazen accomplished their feats on the PGA Tour.
Irwin, playing one group ahead of Kite, birdied the first and third on the Palmer Course at the Turtle Bay Resort to move to 5-under. Kite, who closed with an even-par 72, bogeyed the third to drop into a tie for the lead with Irwin.
'It's been a wild week and with the weather we had he at the finish, you can't have rainbows without some rain,' said Irwin, who earns $225,000 for the win. 'It was highly competitive here at the end. I'll tell you, I was just a little bit nervous on that last hole, and the hole before, and the hole before that knowing Tom could reach the green in two.'
Irwin has battled back problems since June and even thought it could be career-threatening, but knew it just needed time to heel.
'With my back, it's been such a disappointment this summer, that I felt each week I was making a little progress,' said Irwin, who wins his Champions Tour best 38th title. 'I think last week we did not play and that really was helpful. Its been the first week I've played where my back did not give me a little bit if an issue.
'Initially yes, I thought it was career threatening. When you go to some of the specialists I go to and their diagnosis is this or that. But I always felt all along that if I rested it and did what I can do, and give it the time needed, that it will heel. Everyone agreed on that.'
Irwin grabbed the lead when he birdied the fourth. However, Kite fought back to tie him atop the leaderboard with a birdie at the sixth. Both men birdied the seventh to get to 7-under.
Kite dropped a shot back with a bogey on the ninth, but Irwin came back to him with a bogey in No. 11. Kite then birdied the 11th to take the lead back.
Kite again fell back into a share of the lead when he bogeyed the 13th. Irwin took control from there. He birdied the 14th to go up one shot as rain began to drench the course.
Irwin parred the 15th and 16th to remain one shot ahead of Kite, who parred the 14th and 15th. Kite tied him for the lead at the 16th when he ran home a long, breaking birdie putt.
Irwin was not fazed. He birdie the 17th to regain the lead. Kite parred the same hole. Irwin layed up on the par-five closing hole. He dropped his third shot on the green and two-putted for a closing par.
Kite, needing birdie to force a playoff, attempted to go for the green in two. His second shot came up short, hitting rocks just short of the green and dropping into the greenside pond.
He still had a chance at birdie if he could hole his approach from the fairway, but his fourth shot came to rest some 20 feet from the cup. Kite two- putted for bogey, but second place was still his alone, and the win was Irwins.
Graham Marsh, who made tournament history on Saturday when he aced the eighth hole for the first hole-in-one in tournament history on the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay, fired a 7-under 65 to move from a tie for 20th to third place. He was joined at 5-under-par 211 by Bruce Summerhays, who closed with a 66.
Rodger Davis finished alone in fifth place at 4-under-par 212. Morris Hatalsky, Rex Caldwell and D.A. Weibring ended one stroke further back at minus-three.
Jan Stephenson, playing on a sponsor's exemption, closed with a six-over 78. She tied for last place with Bobby Mitchell at 26-over-par 242.
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