Nevertheless, he came to the 18th needing only a par 5 to win. He belted a tremendous drive, and rather than play safe and lay up in front of the green, he hit a three-wood that ended up on the fringe. From there, he chipped to within six feet of the pin to set up his birdie putt and his victory dance. Call it the Irwin Shuffle.
Flanked by an army of identically dressed Buick executives, Irwin received a check for $180,000, which gave him $400,000 for the week. He also got a Tiffany crystal trophy, which toppled from its base—but didn't break—when he tried to lift it. "I haven't done my Nautilus training in a while," he said.
The crystal was a fitting symbol for this victory, because golf seems so crystal clear, so easy, to Irwin nowadays—two weeks before the Open, he finished third at the Kemper Open. He says he is on a roll not because of an adjustment in his swing or a new set of clubs but because he is believing in himself again. "If there is a message in all of this, it's that you should take some time to learn about yourself, to know yourself," he said.
In the press conference after the tournament, Irwin was asked to judge which was more amazing, his back-to-back wins or Nolan Ryan's recent no-hitter. "You left out George Foreman," he said. "Actually, a 43-year-old throwing a no-hitter is pretty impressive. Ah, I'll vote for me."
Irwin won't play a tournament again until the British Open, beginning July 19 at St. Andrews, and he is thinking of having his 15-year-old son, Steve, caddie for him there. "I don't play well at St. Andrews," said Irwin. "I like courses with clearly defined targets." Does that mean he shouldn't be expected to win? "'I might surprise you again," he said.
After meeting the press, Irwin faced a drive to Providence, where the next day he would make an appearance on Good Morning America and play in a corporate golf outing in the afternoon. Then he was scheduled to take a flight back to St. Louis, where on Tuesday he was to give a clinic for one of his pet projects, Clubs For Kids, and start whittling away at the stack of messages from well-wishers in his office. (He runs a golf course, design and management firm.)
On the evening following his second victory of the week, in the evening of his career, Irwin sat in front of his locker and said, "The best part of all this is not the endorsements, not the money, not even my place in golf history. The best part is the smiles I see on friends and family and even strangers. The best part is knowing I'm having a positive effect on other people, the 45-year-olds who arc thinking they might not be over the hill, after all, or the kids I'll see on Tuesday."
Give him five, America.