Going for Three
One Green stood between Hale Irwin and history in deepest football country
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.
Green may have avenged one loss, but he and the other Seniors will have to keep playing catchup 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.
Top-Drawer Putting Secret
How glamorous is life on Tour? "Very," says Brandel Chamblee. "Just last week in Houston I found myself in a Target store wearing Willie Wood's underwear."
Tour veteran Chamblee, who finished 36th at last week's Houston Open, deplaned before the tournament to find his luggage stolen. His worst loss was a pair of designer ostrich boots his wife, Karen, had bought for the Tour's swing through Texas. "Texans will relate to my loss. Those were the mac daddy of all boots," says Chamblee, who played his college golf at Texas. "I had a matching ostrich belt and gold belt buckle, too, but luckily I wore them on the flight." Thus the always well-coiffed, temporarily bedraggled pro wound up paying $166 for underwear, socks, pants, shirts, a toothbrush and a blow-dryer at a discount store on the eve of the tournament. "Now I'm all set, so I guess I could return the underwear I borrowed from Willie," says Chamblee, "except I'm not sure I want to. I wore it during Wednesday's pro-am and made every putt. Next week I'm going to try to borrow Ben Crenshaw's underwear."