Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, January 27, 2002


Hale Irwin defended his Senior Skins title yesterday on Maui. In the background is Arnold Palmer. hole to seal the deal.

Irwin’s Hawaii gold
mine still paying
huge dividends

He wins the Senior Skins for
the third time in his career

By Paul Arnett

WAILEA, Maui >> If all the Senior and PGA Tour events were played in Hawaii, Hale Irwin would be the undisputed king of golf.

He continued his remarkable run in the 50th state by successfully defending his Senior Skins title yesterday at the Wailea Gold Course with a birdie on the final hole that pushed his total to a record $450,000.

Irwin pocketed 11 skins in all, including five on the final hole that were worth $260,000. Nicklaus grabbed the remaining seven skins with a birdie on the seventh hole that was worth $150,000. Veteran Senior Skins participant Arnold Palmer and rookie Fuzzy Zoeller were shut out.

Not that everyone didn't have their chances, they did. But no one was around the hole more often than Irwin, who shot a 7-under-par 65. In his mind, that was one of the reasons he was able to pick up three skins with a birdie on the 10th hole, three more with another birdie on the 13th and five on the final hole to seal the deal.

"I've had such a great run of successes in Hawaii," said Irwin, who won this event for the third time. He also captured the Hawaiian Open in 1981 and won four Senior PGA Tour events in the island chain, including last year's Turtle Bay Championship and the MasterCard Championship in 1997.

"It's kind of hard to put your finger on it," Irwin said. "There's something in the air, something with the people, something in the land, you name it. But it seems to work. I've had such a long relationship with Kapalua specifically and the island of Maui and the state of Hawaii for so many years. It's sort of like coming back home. It's quite a treat. It really is. That's the only explanation I can come up with."

Irwin moved into third place all-time in Senior Skins earnings since his first appearance at Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island in 1997. Irwin has won $1.37 million in this made-for-TV event, trailing only Raymond Floyd ($1.63 million) and Nicklaus ($1.45 million).

His $260,000 putt on the 18th from 6 feet out was the third-most for one hole. Floyd sank a putt for $290,000 in 1995 and Nicklaus had one worth $285,000 in 1991. The expensive putt was something that had Irwin's attention the minute he stepped over the ball.

"It was more like 6 feet," Irwin said after someone suggested it was four. "It wasn't a kick in. It may have looked like one of those TV tap-ins, but it certainly was not. It looked a long ways from where I was standing."

Irwin used a soft 8-iron from 142 yards for his approach shot on the final green. Zoeller and Nicklaus had longer birdie efforts, but couldn't sink them to force a playoff. Palmer hit his drive on the 18th out of bounds and wasn't in contention.

Twice, Palmer had birdie putts lip out. The first one on No. 7 allowed Nicklaus to win the hole with a birdie from 6 feet. It set a record for the most money won to start out the event with seven skins and $150,000. Nicklaus won eight skins and $120,000 to begin the Senior Skins in 1990.

Palmer also lipped out a birdie putt on No. 12 that was worth $80,000. By day's end, Palmer appeared tired. He took off in his jet at day's end, declining to attend the post press conference. Zoeller said Palmer sent his best wishes.

"Let me apologize for Arnie," Zoeller said. "His engines were running. That's all I can say."

Zoeller also had a couple of chances to win some skins. His birdie efforts on Nos. 16 and 17 came close, but just set up Irwin's big birdie on the final hole.

"We had a great time," Zoeller said. "It was a great week here. I played like crap, but I don't take golf too seriously. I had my chances on 16 and 17. I had fairly easy putts (from 15 and 17 feet), but I just missed them. That's the way golf is."

As for Nicklaus, he was just glad his bad back let him get around the course. He hadn't played competitively since July, but was able to not only snare seven skins, but play relatively pain-free.

"From my standpoint, I was just delighted to play," Nicklaus said. "I was tickled pink I won some skins because I didn't know what to expect coming in. I got through today and feel pretty good now. I'm very pleased with the way I played. Hale just played better, but I enjoyed being a part of this again."

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