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Finish With a Fizzle
Gary Van Sickle
November 18, 1996
Jay Sigel brought a merciful end to a too-long season by winning the Senior Tour Championship
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November 18, 1996

Finish With A Fizzle

Jay Sigel brought a merciful end to a too-long season by winning the Senior Tour Championship

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So the finish wasn't terribly tense, especially after Sigel, holding a two-shot lead, hit his approach close at the 18th. The more captivating story, by default, was the dustup between Hale Irwin and Jim Colbert, which may or may not have escalated into a small rivalry. The media, faced with the blandness of the Senior tour, pounced on the slightly snippy exchanges between the two players. It was not a big deal, but this is not a big pond. It started when Colbert won the Vantage Championship on Sept. 29, closed to within striking distance of Irwin in the money race and crowed about it. "I've always admitted it was important to me," said Colbert, who had won last year's money title and relished being No. 1 for the first time.

Irwin skipped the next two tournaments and downplayed the importance of the money title. Told of Colbert's remarks, Irwin said, "Jim makes a lot of things important." Then he imitated Colbert's trademark hand waggle.

Last week both players tried to extinguish the brushfire, without success. "The money title is just another way of keeping score. It's not personal," Colbert said.

"This is built way out of proportion by the media," Irwin said. "There is absolutely no animosity. Jim and I are friends. We have been friends for a long time. I admire the way he has played this year. It's been fantastic. The guy is a heck of a player. When you win five tournaments, you show that last year was no fluke. We get along fine."

No one really bought their stories. After all, these two come at the game from opposite directions. Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open winner who regularly contended in the major championships, would like to see tougher conditions on the Senior tour if only to sustain his interest. Colbert didn't have a glamorous PGA Tour career, so he puts much more stock in what he has accomplished on the Senior tour, where he is a star. Colbert, and many other Senior players, defend the status quo and don't appreciate someone like Irwin downgrading the tour.

Colbert came to the Dunes trailing Irwin by about $66,000. After a nearly flawless opening 67, Irwin's putting touch vanished in the blustery, second-round conditions and he shot 75. The next day he shot himself out of contention with a fat 76, although he rallied with a 70 on Sunday to tie for 10th. Colbert gamely stayed on the leader board most of the week before falling with a bogey-bogey finish on Saturday. On Sunday he again bogeyed the 17th and appeared to have lost his chance at passing Irwin. Colbert hit his approach shot over the flag at the 18th, about 15 feet away, then asked his pal ESPN commentator Frank Beard where he stood in the money race. "You have to make it," Beard told him.

Colbert rolled the downhill putt straight in for a birdie, dropped his putter on the green and strutted off. He had to wait for the last few groups to finish, but Beard had been right. The putt won the money title for Colbert, who finished with $1,627,890 to Irwin's $1,615,769. Not bad, considering Colbert had trailed Irwin by $312,000 six weeks earlier.

"Hale has always been better than me and stills plays better than I do, but I'm getting closer," Colbert said afterward. "I was trying to beat Hale not because it's Hale but because he's the guy who was on top. What he said had nothing to do with me personally. It was just about the guy nipping at his heels. It looked funny in the papers, but he didn't mean anything by it. It creates excitement; it's good for the game. I think the money title is a worthy goal. I remember Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus playing the Cajun Classic years ago. It was the last tournament of the year and had a $25,000 purse, but they played in it for the money title. They thought it was important."

Irwin, who finished ahead of Colbert, waved off reporters after his round and refused to comment.

How does this affect the voting for player of the year? In addition to winning the money title, Colbert won five times. Irwin won twice (but not since April), had seven seconds, the best scoring average (69.47) and won $12,121 less than Colbert despite playing in nine fewer tournaments. Five wins might give Colbert the award, but Irwin's consistently good play makes him the better player. "Certainly Hale is the new sheriff in town, as Lee Trevino likes to say," says Bob Murphy, "and right now Hale is riding the biggest horse."

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