He lost by an extra point. In a gridironic finish, Hale Irwin,
the former star of the Colorado secondary, came in second at the
Bruno's Memorial Classic to a guy with the physique of a kicker.
Irwin finished within a whisker of becoming the first Senior
tour player to win three straight tournaments since Lee Trevino
in 1992. A W would have boosted him from consensus No. 1 to
unanimous choice, and on the final hole he went for the
two-under conversion, narrowly missing a 55-foot putt for eagle.
Still, his closing 65 seemed to make him a lock for the win.
Hubert Green knows that tailgating Irwin is no way to get home,
yet the scrawny Alabaman, cheered on by record crowds in
Birmingham, kept slipstreaming through a tide of crimson numbers
until he reached the top of the leader board. "I wanted
revenge," he said. Two months ago Irwin sacked him from behind
for a one-stroke win at the Toshiba Classic. This time Green
nudged in a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole for his first
Senior win. "It's about time. My trophy case is bare," he said.
Spurred by Morgan's challenge, Irwin keeps going
deep into the red zone.
Green may have avenged one loss, but he and the other Seniors
will have to keep playing catch-up or Irwin will turn them all
into Senior Mother Hubbards. Golf's leading earner for 1997-98
didn't win until his fifth start this year, but he has caught up
with a vengeance in recent weeks. "The fact that I haven't
finished out of the top five in any tournament this year attests
to how well I'm playing," he said on Sunday. So does the fact
that even in defeat he surpassed $1 million in earnings though
he has played in only eight events. Brett Favre, who played in
the Bruno's pro-am, has a better per-Sunday average, but Irwin
leads Tiger Woods and David Duval in that department and has
averaged $564.60 per swing this year.
Earlier this spring, when Gil Morgan edged past him for the
tour's top spot, Irwin joked edgily that Morgan was "getting to
be a pain." Last week, after months of denying that they are
rivals, just as Alabama and Auburn aren't rivals, the defensive
back and the optometrist fessed up to the obvious. "Gil and I
play at a high level, and we feed off each other," said Irwin.
Morgan called Irwin's recent play "devastating," a word other
Seniors could apply to either of them.
"Can you beat them both in the same week? I don't think so,"
said Jack Keifer before Green became the exception that proves
the rule. So dominant is the dynamic duo that Chi Chi Rodriguez,
who finished 27th at Birmingham, said, "Give [Arnold] Palmer and
Trevino and Chi Chi a chance. No one wants to see the same guys
win over and over. I got tired of Marshal Dillon on TV. I got
tired of Columbo's raincoat. We need new guys to win."
Morgan did his bit for Chi Chi by finishing 11th at Birmingham.
Irwin, though, keeps playing like a man who thinks he can go
undefeated. It wasn't that he three-peatered out last week; he
just ran out of time: "One more day and I would have been right
there," he said. This week he takes time out to return to the
PGA Tour"back to the regular Tour with the babies," he says.
He'll be about a touchdown underdog at the BellSouth Classic,
picking on guys with talent his own size.
Issue date: May 11, 1998