Irwin looking forward to Turtle Bay
KA'UPULEHU, Hawaii » While no one has successfully defended his title since the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai moved to the Big Island a decade ago, that has not been the case for the Turtle Bay Championship.
Hale Irwin is riding a six-tournament winning streak as the Champions Tour prepares for its first full-field event of 2006 later this week on the North Shore of Oahu. But that may change. Only two golfers taking part at the MasterCard won't be in the field. Peter Jacobsen withdrew last week because his right knee is bothering him and D.A. Weibring never entered.
If that's not enough competition for Irwin, 28 of last year's top 30 money winners are scheduled to tee it up this Friday in an effort to stop Irwin's 21st-century streak. Irwin enters today's final round in a tie for 18th place at 7-under 137, 10 strokes off the pace.
"I shot a 68 on Friday and I thought about turning around and going back to the barn when I saw how many low numbers were out here," Irwin said. "But next week, it's a lot more important from tee to green than it is this week."
In other words, don't count out the 60-year-old, who still had the most wins on the Champions Tour last year with four. While he won the MasterCard in 1997, the Hualalai Golf Club isn't as pleasing to his eye as Arnold Palmer's course at Turtle Bay. The competition will be very tough for Irwin, perhaps the best yet. But beating him may prove formidable, no matter how many young guns take their shot.
Second-round leader tough: The 36-hole leader has a three-stroke lead going into the final round, much like Tom Watson had over Wayne Levi a year ago. And we all know what happened then. Dana Quigley came out of the pack to beat Watson in a three-hole playoff.
But that's not the norm. Over the last 11 years, the man holding or sharing the second-round lead has gone on to win the MasterCard Championship eight times. That's the good news for Don Pooley. The bad news may be that Pooley is only 1-for-2 in 54-hole Champions Tour events when holding or sharing the lead going into the final round.
At the 2004 Royal Caribbean Classic, he shared the lead with Levi, only to shoot a final-round 77 to wind up finished in a tie for 13th. Pooley's first of two wins on the senior circuit occurred in 2003, when he led going into the final round at the Allianz Championship. Like today, he was alone in first at that event after 36 holes.
On the PGA Tour, Pooley's best opening two rounds were a 130 at the 1989 Texas Open, three shots shy of the 127 he managed the first two days of this year's MasterCard Championship. He went on to finish in a tie for ninth.
Inside the numbers: While the scoring average during yesterday's second round remained strong at 68.743, it was a little more than a stroke off Friday's opening 67.543. The best second-round average at Hualalai was 68.139, in 2003.
A total of 25 players landed in the 60s yesterday, two shy of the 27 golfers who shot at least 3 under on Friday. There were 28 golfers under par yesterday after 33 managed that feat on Friday.
For the second straight day, the most difficult hole was the par-3 fifth with a scoring average of 3.400. Part of the reason were the two double bogeys posted by playing partners Watson and Loren Roberts. There were four birdies, 17 pars, 11 bogeys and the two doubles. By contrast, there have been no bogeys at the par-3 17th. The second-hardest hole was the par-4 ninth, where there was only one birdie for the day by Craig Stadler.
The easiest hole was the par-5 10th with a scoring average of 4.114. It played slightly harder than Friday, but still yielded four eagles, 24 birdies, six pars and one bogey. For two consecutive days, there were 10 eagles, with Bruce Summerhays leading the way with consecutive eagles at the 10th. There were no bogeys at the par-5 fourth.
Pooley, Weibring and David Eger are the only three players left in the field who have not had a bogey on their scorecard. Quigley, who is nine shots off the pace, will need a miracle to defend his title, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been playing well. His 69 yesterday was his 16th consecutive round under par and his 13th straight round in the 60s at Hualalai. Quigley has never shot over par here in 26 rounds with 24 of those in the red.