The Torch has been passed. The past has been torched. Ladies and gentlemen, here's everything you need to know about the season-ending Energizer Senior Tour Championship and, for that matter, the 1997 Senior tour: Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan.
As dynamic duos go, they're no Batman and Robin, Palmer and Nicklaus or, definitely, Rowan and Martin. So what? Simply check out last week's scoreboard at the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., then total up the victories on this year's Senior tour: Irwin, nine. Morgan, six. Others, present.
The Tour Championship was less of a grand finale than an instant replay: Irwin and Morgan, Morgan and Irwin, crimson and clover, over and over. You didn't have to know what happened last week. If you possessed the cunning of, say, Ace Ventura, you could guess. "When I got here Monday," said cherubic Bob Murphy, "the first reporter I talked to says, 'Well, is there anybody else in this golf tournament except Gil Morgan and Hale Irwin?' I said, 'Gee, I thought 31 guys were invited.' "
They were, but in retrospect, why? Sure, there were some interesting cameo appearances. Ol' Murph made one, finally holing putts with some regularity and shooting 66 in the opening round after getting a new prescription for his glasses. Bob Duval, whose son, David, so enjoyed breaking into the win column late on the PGA Tour last month that he won three times in a row, tried to make it four straight Duvals but faded on the weekend. There was also Hubert Green, with a swing that would've looked familiar if we hadn't blinked and missed it, contending for a while.
They were just opening acts, though. The main attractions were Irwin, trying to win for the 10th time this year and break the tour record he shares with Peter Thomson, and Dr. Gil, the soft-spoken optometrist who has never practiced, trying to join Irwin and Tiger Woods as the only players to earn more than $2 million in a year. How could the tournament not turn into a judgment-day showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 among the Seniors? Before the suspense kills you, Morgan won this duel by two strokes, holding a comfortable advantage that swelled to as many as five shots during the final round. The next best finisher, Isao Aoki, closed with 67 and still stood seven strokes behind Morgan.
Morgan and Irwin played in the same event 19 times this year, and Morgan finished higher in 12 of them. The two players came in one-two on four occasions. Although he missed his chance to set the record for victories, Irwin had few regrets. "It's been a wonderful year," he said. "I'm a little disappointed that the 10 victories didn't come, but, gosh, you can't get greedy. I'm relieved the season's over. Now I can put an absolutely fantastic year in the books and enjoy it. I played very well this week. Shoot, I'd take my 14 under here every year and probably win—except when Gil shoots 16 under. I've done that to some other players this year, so I understand."
Irwin won $2,343,364 this season, the most money earned on a single tour in history, while Morgan, with the $328,000 he made last week, ended up with $2,160,562. They each banked more than Woods, but that's comparing apples and swooshes. "Hale had as good a year as anybody's ever had in golf," says Andy North, the ESPN commentator who worked many of Irwin's tournaments this season. "He was Byron Nelson-like in the way he played. A lot of pros couldn't go out and win nine tournaments on the AJGA [American Junior Golf Association] circuit." Adds David Feherty, North's counterpart at CBS, "Isn't there a law against robbing old people in this country?"
Irwin led the Senior tour in greens hit in regulation and in putting—a deadly combination. The story was about the same for Morgan, who has always been, like Irwin, a terrific ball-striker but was never particularly effective on the greens. That changed this year. Morgan ranked second in greens in regulation and in putting. "I truly believe that Gil is a better player now than he used to be," Irwin says. "His game has come together. He's swinging the club better, and this week he putted better than ever."
Almost as striking as Irwin's and Morgan's domination this season was the disappearance of the players they supplanted. Whatever happened to Jim Colbert, Raymond Floyd, Murphy, Jack Nicklaus, Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino and even John Bland? Those seven combined for 34 victories in the last two years. In 1997 they accounted for two. With this group of stars missing in action, there was almost no competition for Irwin and Morgan. "You take us out of the picture, and everything changes," Murphy says.
Each player had his own troubles. Colbert missed most of the summer because of prostate cancer surgery. Floyd, who has played a lot of golf since turning 50 in 1992, might have lost interest. Nicklaus made only six starts on the tour, and Trevino failed to win for the first time as a Senior.