BARON SEKIYA / WEST HAWAII TODAY
Yesterday's MasterCard win was Hale Irwin's 19th tournament championship after the age of 55.
All eyes on Irwin
HUALALAI, Hawaii » The idea that Hale Irwin gave everybody else a chance last year and now it's his turn to recapture his glory days didn't meet with Tom Kite's full approval.
In his mind, Irwin played great over the weekend at the MasterCard Championship to capture his 45th Champions Tour event, but that doesn't mean he will dominate once again.
There are several talented players joining the tour this year, including Nick Price and Mark O'Meara early on, and Seve Ballesteros, Jeff Sluman, John Cook and even golf analyst Nick Faldo as the year progresses.
Throw in Jay Haas and Loren Roberts, who dominated the Champions Tour last year, and it would seem unlikely Irwin will be a contender each and every week he plays. Given his recent love of designing golf courses, he's not even sure how many events he will play during the coming campaign.
"Hale has done some amazing things out here," said Kite, who finished in a tie for second with Jim Thorpe some five shots off Irwin's blistering pace.
"He's done great things all throughout his career, that's why he's in the hall of fame. You don't get there without doing some pretty good stuff. But you know, at some point in time in all of our careers we're going to win our last golf tournament. On the day you win it, you don't think it's your last tournament. You think you're going to win a bunch more."
But at age 61 and with a back that limits his practice time, it's hard to imagine Irwin will having the stamina to keep up with the younger pups heading toward the Champions Tour this season. As well as he plays here in Hawaii, Irwin is just another guy trying to grind out wins once he's back on the mainland.
"When Hale comes in here, he's going to be very optimistic about what the rest of the year holds," Kite said. "But this is an exciting year for the Champions Tour. Apart from the year in recent years when Tom (Watson), Lanny (Wadkins) and I all came out at the same time, we've got a strong influx of really talented guys who are coming out.
"We've got a lot of guys already out here who are playing very well. It's going to be unbelievably competitive with some name power. I think everybody is excited about it. Probably nobody is more excited about it than Hale Irwin. And Thorpe and I are probably second."
Irwin is well aware of what's on the horizon himself. He's been a part of one great era and hopes he has enough game left in his bag to be a part of the next big movement to the senior circuit.
"We're banking on them coming out," Irwin said. "And presumedly most of them if not all of them are. I think it's going to create a real dynamic situation for great golf. And I think the fans are going to see some personalities and the credentials these guys are bringing is going to be pretty awesome.
"I'm kind of glad to be a part of it, to tell you the truth. I got to be part of the Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino era. And now you get to be part of these newer guys coming on with all their great playing and credentials. I kind of get the best of both."
Roberts ready for next week: Loren Roberts didn't successfully defend here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He finished in fourth, some six strokes off the pace. Since this winners-only event moved to the Hualalai Golf Club in 1997, no one has successfully defended the tittle. The closest was Dana Quigley when he won in 2003 and then again in 2005 in a playoff over Watson.
Now, it's the Turtle Bay Championship that Roberts will be trying to win back to back. He snapped Irwin's five-tournament win streak there with a victory in 2006 and with the way Irwin played this week, it's going to be tough for the 51-year-old putting wizard from Tennessee to win again. Dating back to last year, Roberts has managed 17 consecutive rounds under par.
"Hopefully, I can defend one of these events," Roberts said after he shot 17-under 199 for the week. "Maybe I can set Hale back, it's going to be fun next week. Another week in Hawaii is great. I had a good week at Hualalai. This is just a fabulous place to begin your year."
Inside the numbers: Irwin ran his career earnings on the Champions Tour to a staggering $23.67 million to average $86,720 per start. He has won 19 of his 45 titles after the age of 55. In addition to his wins, Irwin has also finished second 41 times and third 22.
Overall, he has 186 top-10 finishes in 273 starts. Irwin has won the same event on the Champions Tour a total of 13 times. Irwin led in putting average this week at 1.488. He needed only 75 putts for the week and was also first in driving accuracy, hitting 37 of 42 fairways for an average of 88.1 percent.
The hardest hole yesterday was the par-3 fifth with a scoring average of 3.220. There was one birdie by D.A Weibring, along with 32 pars, six bogeys and two double bogeys by Craig Stadler and Player. The hardest hole for the week was also the par-3 fifth with a scoring average of 3.163.
The easiest hole yesterday was the par-5 10th with six eagles, 23 birdies, 11 pars and one bogey by Fred Funk for a scoring average of 4.171. It was also the easiest hole for the week with a scoring average of 4.187. It surrendered 11 eagles and 80 birdies.