[ GOLF ]

Hale Irwin acknowledged the gallery after winning the Turtle Bay Championship.

Playoff breakthrough
gives Irwin the win

The Senior PGA Tour’s dominant
player beats Gary McCord on the
first extra hole at Turtle Bay

Exhausted McCord gains second
Unlucky 18th hole keeps Mast out of playoff

By Grady Timmons
Special to the Star-Bulletin

As he nears the end of his eighth full season on the Senior PGA Tour, there isn't much Hale Irwin hasn't accomplished.

The 57-year-old golfer has won more events, more money, and more Charles Schwab points than anyone cares to remember. Yet up until yesterday, he had never won a playoff.

In five previous attempts on the Senior Tour, including two earlier this year, Irwin was 0-5 in overtime.

That streak is now over. Yesterday at the $1.5 million Turtle Bay Championship, Irwin rolled home a 10-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole of sudden death to turn back CBS golf analyst Gary McCord after the two had finished regulation play deadlocked at 8-under-par 208.

In the process, Irwin captured his second straight Turtle Bay title and added to his amazing record. He notched his 36th Senior Tour career championship, tops on the Senior Tour's all-time victory list, and claimed his fourth win of the 2002 season.

He earned a paycheck of $225,000, increasing his 2002 official earnings to $2,829,041 and his career Senior Tour earnings to $16.75 million, which is also tops and averages out to $92,546 per senior career start. With three Senior Tour events left on the 2002 schedule, he now has a shot at becoming the first senior to win $3 million in a single season.

Irwin earned 225 points to clinch the 2002 Charles Schwab Cup, a competition that rewards the winner with a $1 million annuity. Irwin now has 2,710 total points, or about 1,000 more than his closest pursuer, Bob Gilder.

Finally, he claimed his sixth official victory in Hawaii and his ninth overall, counting three Senior Skins Game wins.

"My playoff record is not exemplary," Irwin said afterwards. "Why, I don't know ... I didn't play my best golf this week. But I made a few putts today at the right time and that kept me going ... I hung in there today. I got it done. "

Irwin began the day tied for the lead at 6-under with Dick Mast, Mike Smith and Morris Hatalsky. McCord was one back, and one of a dozen players within three shots of the lead.

Gary McCord wiped his club as his caddie, Joe Grillo, held an umbrella on the 15th green yesterday.

Over the course of the round, however, the other contenders all faded. Bob Gilder fired a 32 on the front nine to move to 8-under, only to limp home with a 41 on the back. John Bland turned in 33 to get to 7-under, but that's where he finished.

Smith and Hatalsky, meanwhile, both had one bad nine and were never quite in contention, finishing at 7-under and 6-under, respectively.

Mast was the only one who actually got out ahead of Irwin and McCord. He hit only two greens on the front side, but one-putted seven holes and was at 9-under-par through 12 before being derailed by consecutive bogeys at 13 and 14.

"I pretty much lived in the rough for the first 11 holes and got away with it," he said. "But it eventually caught up with me."

That left Irwin and McCord alone at 8-under. Irwin turned in 34, making birdies at the first and ninth holes, while McCord birdied 3, 7, 8 and 9 to turn in 33 with a bogey at the par-3 fourth. He had only two bogeys for the tournament.

On the back side, however, both golfers could do no better than match pars.

Down the stretch, McCord repeatedly left his approach shots short of the hole and never had makeable birdie opportunities, while Irwin had trouble finding the putting surface and was repeatedly forced to scramble.

At 14, after his wedge shot found the front bunker, he made a 13-footer for par that he called the key shot of his round. Irwin never made a bogey the entire day, getting up and down six times during his round.

Still tied going into 18, both golfers hit their second shots over the water and into different back bunkers at the par-5 finishing hole. Both failed to get up and down, Irwin's 10-footer for birdie spinning out of the hole.

When it came time for the playoff it was hard to imagine two more different personalities. Irwin is a no-nonsense, get-down-to business kind of guy, while McCord is an irreverent quipster who seems to be as loose on the course as he is in the broadcasting booth.

Returning to 18th tee for the playoff, McCord drove into the left rough and was forced to lay up short of the water, while Irwin split the middle of fairway and had another go at the green, this time getting up and down from the back fringe.

Afterwards, both golfers had high praise for one another. Said Irwin: "Gary and I played all three rounds together. In those 55 holes, he only made two bogeys. He's definitely a player of substance."

Said McCord. "Playing with Hale made me focus. He never gives up."

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