The Loop

Irwin continues to search for answers on the greens

August 22, 2009

SUNRIVER, Ore. - Hale Irwin got off to a good start at the Jeld-Wen Tradition with a first-round 68, but he followed that with a 73 and early in the third round Saturday the Champions Tour's all-time leading winner found himself back in the pack in T-34 after a couple of bogeys.

Unfortunately that is familiar territory for Irwin, who hasn't had a top-10 finish since the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in October 2007. For a 64-year-old, such a decline ordinarily wouldn't be that surprising, but Irwin has been far from an ordinary golfer. In addition to his 45 victories, the last at the 2007 MasterCard Championship, Irwin has 195 top-10s in 328 Champions Tour appearances--even with his two-year drought, that's a staggering 59 percent of the time.

While Irwin is hitting the ball marginally shorter and missing a few more greens, he really is a case study in how important putting is to success. From 1995 through 2005 Irwin was ranked in the top five in putting average per GIR seven times and never lower than T-17. The last four years have been a different story on the greens: Irwin  has been T-39, T-18, T-69 and was 57th prior to the Tradition.

Irwin was T-6 in putting after 36 holes of the Tradition, which at least was movement in the right direction. Â

-- Bill Fields  Â