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The Loop

Age is just a number for Irwin, teenagers

May 28, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There is a lot of cool stuff happening in professional golf this weekend, what with teenagers leading or contending at tour events in England and in Texas, but the final round of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship is shaping up as something special for the opposite kind of age factor.

Matteo Manassero and Jordan Spieth are five to 10 years younger than when players generally start to win regular tour events. Hale Irwin, on the other hand, is nearly 16 years older than the minimum age to play on the Champions Tour. That Irwin, who will turn 66 on June 3, is tied for the 54-hole lead at Valhalla GC with Kiyoshi Murota at nine-under 207 is a remarkable feat.

If Irwin were to pull off a victory Sunday, he would break his own record as oldest winner of a major since the Champions Tour began in 1980 - he was 58 years, 11 months, 31 days when he won the 2004 Senior PGA at Valhalla. A victory would allow him to eclipse Mike Fetchick, the oldest player to win a Champions Tour event (63 years to the day). Irwin even would supplant Jock Hutchison, who was 62 when he won the 1947 Senior PGA decades before senior golf was really on the map.

Irwin's poor finish - a sloppy double-bogey 7 on the 18th hole Saturday - eliminated what had been a two-shot lead. Tom Watson, a spry 61 years old, lurks at eight-under in third place. Nick Price and Tom Lehman, more than a decade younger than Irwin, are within four strokes.

There have been plenty of Sundays throughout golf history when a nostalgic choice felt his years when a tournament was on the line. For every older golfer who has bucked the odds, many more have faded away. Irwin hasn't had the lead going into the final round of a Champions Tour event since the 2007 Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, when he finished second to Gil Morgan.

It could go either way for Irwin tomorrow, but for anybody who appreciates longevity and a successful athlete pulling out one more before time is up, the final round presents a delicious storyline. This isn't Tom Watson at Turnberry 2009, but it's certainly something rare.

*-- Bill Fields *