Irwin going for six in a row
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
The Hale Irwin Invitational — I mean, the Turtle Bay Championship — begins tomorrow with 77 players trying to end Irwin's remarkable winning streak in the Champions Tour's first full-field event of the year.
Irwin set a record for the ages by winning the same PGA-sanctioned event for the fifth straight time last year.
He is going for six in a row at the Turtle Bay Resort's Palmer Course where he has never been beaten since the event moved from Ka'anapali, Maui, where he began his streak, to O'ahu's North Shore in 2001.
The streak was put on hold in 2004 when there was no tournament because of a schedule change that put the Turtle Bay Championship in a new position from the fall to January.
The odds are against Irwin's bid for six straight. It is 77-1 with one of the 77 others in the field being Loren Roberts, who shattered tour and tournament records in winning the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai last week.
"Loren set new parameters in scoring," said Irwin, who never thought he would have found himself 15 strokes off the pace after shooting 10-under par as he did last week at the Big Island course.
"For one, it shows you how well these guys can play," Irwin said.
Course conditions also helped, according to Irwin, the all-time money leader on the Champions Tour and still playing strong at age 60.
"The course plays easier with the light Kona winds. And Hualalai's greens are unmatched anywhere on either tour," added Irwin, who thought if he had made a couple of putts early he might have finished higher on the leaderboard.
But this week, he is at a golf course he owns, figuratively speaking.
If Stuart Appleby is the "King of Kapalua" with three straight titles in the Mercedes Championships, surely Hale Irwin is the "Titan of Turtle Bay."
Last year he was glad to be a part of golf history with his fifth consecutive victory in the same PGA event. He had been tied at four in a row with Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tom Morris, Jr.
So what would it mean to make it six in a row?
"To do it would be quite a feat," Irwin said. "It's certainly possible."
Irwin likes his chances because the Palmer Course is one that suits his game, namely controlled accuracy.
"It's not as wide open as Hualalai. Turtle Bay is a more difficult course because of the way some of the holes are laid out. The driving areas are narrower and there are more holes with penal situations," Irwin said. "You have to hit your ball well and you have to commit yourself to some shots. Your game has to be crisp."
The conditions will be different, as well.
"You know it's going to be windy at Turtle Bay. And I heard there was some rain, so you know it's going to be wet," he said.
All told, Irwin doesn't expect the scores to be as outlandishly low as they were last week. Which suits him fine.
There is also the hale factor in Irwin's favor. Hale, as in house in Hawaiian. And Hawai'i has definitely been a home-course advantage for Irwin, who owns property at Hokuli'a on the Big Island.
When he won by five strokes last year, Irwin said, "I wish we could take this Hawaiian tour and just move it around the Mainland. (Or) we could bring all the tournaments over here and sort of play through the Islands."
Irwin has won eight official PGA events in Hawai'i, beginning with the 1981 United Airlines Hawaiian Open, and has earned nearly $3.9 million in the Islands alone, not counting three victories in the Champions Skins Games and an additional $1 million in unofficial money.
He has won on the Big Island, on Maui and on O'ahu, and just about everywhere else around the world. He is not a three-time U.S. Open champion for nothing.
But Hawai'i, and Turtle Bay in particular, have been kind to him, Irwin said.
He and his wife, Sally, are sticking around for a vacation on the Big Island next week when son Steve and his wife, Jessi, come over for a visit.
Irwin's Hawaiian golf tour isn't done, either. He will be playing in the Wendy's Champions Skins Game at Wailea, Maui, on Feb. 6 as Gary Player's partner. The other two-person teams in the new format are Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer-Peter Jacobsen and Raymond Floyd-Dana Quigley.