60-somethings should be in the mix at Turtle Bay
Irwin's win at Hualalai shows that the 50-somethings do not own the Champions Tour
With Hale Irwin proving the shelf life of a golfer doesn't necessarily end at 60, this week's $1.6 million Turtle Bay Championship no longer belongs solely to the younger crowd.
The top three money-winners for the Champions Tour last year were mentioned early and often at the winners-only MasterCard Championship.
Jay Haas not only won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy for being named the senior circuit's player of the year, he also took home the Arnold Palmer Award for pocketing the most money. That hasn't happened in the same season since somebody named Irwin in 2002.
Right on his spikes was defending Turtle Bay champion Loren Roberts. He just missed catching Haas in both those categories. To show how close this rivalry was, a missed 4-foot putt for par by Roberts at the final hole of the season-ending event allowed Haas to beat Roberts by a scant 20 points to win the $1 million annuity provided in the Charles Schwab Cup race.
Brad Bryant finished a distant third to his fellow 50-somethings, but he took an immediate liking to the Hualalai Golf Club. In his first MasterCard last week, Bryant rolled in a 10-under 62 to lead after the opening round, a pace he needed on Sunday to catch Irwin, but couldn't manage. Neither could Roberts, who was defending his record-setting performance at MasterCard in
too aggressive a fashion on Sunday.
TURTLE BAY CHAMPIONSHIP
At Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort
Starting times for tomorrow's first round
8:25 a.m.--Darrell Kastner, Jon Fiedler, Mitch Adams. 8:36--Walter Hall, Lonnie Nielsen, Tim Simpson. 8:47--Jim Albus, Howard Twitty, Kenny Knox. 8:58--Ed Dougherty, R.W. Eaks, Jack Renner. 9:09--Dick Mast, Charles Coody, Chip Beck.
9:20--Jim Ahem, Mike McCullough, Bob Eastwood. 9:31--Andy Bean, Gil Morgan, Hajime Meshiai. 9:42--Bobby Wadkins, Dana Quigley, Jerry Pate. 9:53--Jay Haas, Mark Johnson, Raymond Floyd. 10:04--Tom Purtzer, David Eger, Gary Player.
10:15--David Edwards, Des Smyth, Bruce Summerhays. 10:26--Ron Streck, Brad Bryant, Morris Hatalsky. 10:37--Tom Jenkins, Mike Reid, Wayne Levi. 10:48--Jim Thorpe, John Harris, D.A. Weibring. 10:59--Eduardo Romero, Mark McNulty, Isao Aoki.
11:10--Loren Roberts, John Jacobs, Ben Crenshaw. 11:21--Bob Gilder, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller. 11:32--Scott Simpson, Tom Kite, Don Pooley. 11:43--Allen Doyle, Fred Funk, Peter Jacobsen. 11:54--Vicente Fernandez, Joe Inman, Danny Edwards.
12:05 p.m.--Jim Colbert, Hugh Baiocchi, Keith Fergus. 12:16--James Mason, Dave Eichelberger, Denis Watson. 12:27--Jay Sigel, Leonard Thompson, Lanny Wadkins. 12:38--Bob Murphy, David Ishii, Denny Hepier. 12:49--Mitch Adcock, Doug LaCrosse, Joe Ozaki. 1--Tom McKnight, Kiyochi Murota, Massy Kuramoto.
Note: J.C. Snead and Craig Stadler withdrew yesterday and were replaced by Dick Mast and Hajime Meshiai.
Roberts began the final round trailing Irwin by four shots, forcing him to go hard at the pins. He found the fringe and the sand as often as not, leaving him with a 67 and a fourth-place finish that was six shots off the pace.
His fellow final-round contenders, including second-place finishers Jim Thorpe and Tom Kite, figured Irwin for a round in the mid-60s, so they had to shoot Irwin's age of 61 to catch him. Irwin's recital was right on pitch as he closed with a 7-under 65. A missed note came at the last when he let a 2-footer for par slip by, but that just made it look closer than it actually was, as Irwin still won by five shots.
All of these golfers will be back at it tomorrow on the Arnold Palmer-designed course at Turtle Bay as they play in the first full-field Champions Tour event of 2007. Before Roberts' victory here last year, Irwin had won this tournament five consecutive times, dating back to when it was played at Kaanapali, Maui, in 2000.
This event shifted to Oahu in 2001. Irwin won it that year, as well as 2002, 2003 and 2005. The event was not played in the fall of 2004 so it could follow the MasterCard in 2005 and that has improved the field dramatically.
There are 33 golfers in this week's tournament making their 2007 debuts, including Chip Beck, Keith Fergus, Jim Colbert, Curtis Strange, Wayne Levi, Denis Watson and Bob Murphy. Local favorite David Ishii is in the field, as are fellow sponsor invitees Jim Ahern, Denny Hepler, Kiyoshi Murota and Howard Twitty, who won the 1993 United Airlines Hawaiian Open. Ishii captured the same event in 1990, as did newcomer Jack Renner in 1984, giving the field some local history.
Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins, who opened their campaigns last week at the MasterCard, are also in the field. Crenshaw won the Hawaiian Open in 1976 and Wadkins did it twice -- in 1988 and 1991, his next-to-last victory on the PGA Tour. Add fellow Hawaiian Open winners Levi (1982), Andy Bean (1980), Isao Aoki (1983) and of course Irwin, whose 1981 Hawaiian Open win was the first of nine official PGA and Champions Tour victories for him in the island chain.
"It always feels good to play at Turtle Bay," Irwin said. "I don't know what it is exactly, but this place brings out the best in me. I struggled here last year (to a tie for 38th). Hopefully, I'll play better this year. My game is in much better shape."
Everybody got a taste of Irwin last week, and those who have played Turtle Bay in the 21st century are well aware of Irwin's record run. But you get the feeling that there are too many good golfers roaming the fairways for anyone to reel off as many victories as Irwin has managed through the years.
Even Roberts got a feel last week for what it's like not to successfully defend your trophy at the MasterCard. He, too, likes this course and with the way he can putt, Roberts has as good a chance as anyone in the field.
"It would be good to see if I can get this one away from Hale," Roberts said, then smiled. "I feel like he owes me one after the way he played last week. It's always great to spend a month in Hawaii, but I'd like to win this one if I could."
Roberts opened his 2006 campaign by winning the first three events on the Champions Tour. Last year, he opened the year with a tie for 18th at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He decided to sit that one out this year, so he could play in the Senior Skins game that was being held the same weekend in Maui.
This week, he closes out his Hawaii vacation, as do Haas, Kite and Thorpe. Kite has done well here in the past and believes his golf game can handle the big breezes that blow across Turtle Bay more often than not this time of year.
"I'm driving the ball well and I have control over most of my shots," Kite said. "You need that on this golf course. When I can trust my swing, usually something good happens. I'm excited about the rest of the year."