[ GOLF ]

Hale Irwin hit out of a bunker on the 18th hole at the Turtle Bay Championship yesterday. Irwin finished at 4 under par.

Irwin shares
opening-round lead

A 4-under 68 ties him
with Dana Quigley
and Rex Caldwell

Hale Irwin walks a little upright these days, as if he's wearing an ironing board underneath his shirt.

But if his back is bothering him, as it has since late May, the three-time defending champion didn't show it during yesterday's opening round of the $1.5 million Turtle Bay Championship.

The wind blew many of the 81 golfers into the Pacific Ocean. Only 15 players broke par on the long 7,044-yard Arnold Palmer-designed course. One of them was Irwin, to no surprise to any who have watched the 58-year-old play in the island chain. He practically owns the place, as his $3.2 million in earnings here attest.

His 4-under 68 was good enough for a share of the 18-hole lead with Rex Caldwell and Dana Quigley, who finished about a half-hour ahead of Irwin on this wind-swept day on the North Shore. Irwin had a chance to take the lead outright. His approach on the par-5 18th sailed into a green-side bunker, however, leaving him an awkward third shot that led to a tricky par.

Not that Irwin was complaining mind you. Just to be within shouting distance of the lead suited the four-time winner of this event. If he walks off the 18th green in the lead tomorrow, Irwin becomes the first professional to win the same event five times.

But don't count out Quigley just yet.

Like Irwin, Quigley believes the wind is either your friend or an enemy to be feared. He also knows that if you stay close to Irwin over the weekend, you have a chance to win come Sunday.

"Hawaii has been very good for me," Quigley said. "I hit the ball low and with this wind it plays right into my game. These are welcome conditions for me. I don't worry about the wind too much. If I can play with Hale tomorrow and Sunday, I've got a chance to win. He and I can share Hawaii. There's enough to go around for both of us."

Quigley began his year with a surprising win at the MasterCard Championship on the Big Island, holding off Larry Nelson for the $250,000 first prize. Irwin won that event in 1997, two Kaanapali Classics, two Turtle Bays and the Hawaiian Open in 1981. He's also pocketed $1.5 million in six Senior Skins appearances on the Big Island and Maui.

"One of my better days as far as my back goes," said Irwin, who injured it last May. "I still feel a little uncomfortable. I ratchet it up to about 85 percent healthy. I had a good day yesterday, so maybe we're on our way to recovery. I feel comfortable on this course and I've had a lot of success here."

Five other golfers were another shot back at 69, including Bob Gilder. But none can match Irwin's accomplishments through the years. He won the 2000 Kaanapali Classic on Maui. The event moved to the Turtle Bay Resort in 2001 with Irwin winning that event and the tournament played here last year. Throw in the 1997 Kaanapali Classic victory and Irwin finds himself in rare waters. Only Jack Nicklaus at The Tradition has won an event four times. Does he think about it?

"Not really," Irwin said. "I let you guys in the media do that for me. If it happens, great."

Caldwell and Quigley will do their part to try to spoil Irwin's party. While Irwin had five birdies, including three in a row to finish the front nine with a 33, Quigley managed three to begin his round. He also had a birdie on the par-5 ninth to make the turn at 32.

Quigley managed two more birdies on the 11th and 12th to drop to 6 under, but bogies on the 13th and 17th left Quigley with a 68. Caldwell snuck in late with birdies on the 17th and 18th. The last time he was tied for the lead in a PGA Tour event was at the Honda Classic in 1989. He has not won on the Champions Tour and is 99th on the money list. This is only his sixth tournament.

Not so for Quigley. Called the iron man of the Champions Tour, this is Quigley's 230th consecutive event dating back to the BankBoston Classic in 1997. He is seventh on the money list.

"I enjoy playing golf, what can I tell you?" the 56-year-old Quigley said. "I'd like it a lot better if I could get another win."

Jan Stephenson would have liked it a lot better had she found her game. After having to defend some controversial remarks in Golf Magazine about Asians killing the LPGA Tour, the 51-year-old, who is the first woman to play in a Champions Tour event, shot an 8-over 80. She birdied the par-3 15th, her only one for the day.

"This is a very difficult course, very long, especially in the wind," Stephenson said. "I got off to a rough start (5-over 41 on the front), but I played a little better on the back. I was very nervous when I started. Not only did I have to deal with the Golf Magazine article, I had to play a round of golf on a difficult course. I didn't eat anything until the eighth hole."


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