The last thing Hale Irwin wanted was a golf date today at the Riviera Country Club. So he did something about it.
Overcoming his worst round of the year to begin the 19th U.S. Senior Open, Irwin sank a putt from about 12 feet on the final hole Sunday to win the event by one stroke over Vicente Fernandez of Argentina.Irwin, who has dominated the senior tour since 1996, made another birdie putt on the 16th hole - from about 25 feet - to forge a tie with Fernandez, who had finished his round and could only sit and watch.
Irwin just missed a 20-footer for birdie on No. 17, leaving him in a position where a par on No. 18 would set up an 18-hole playoff today.
"Oh, no, I didn't want to play (today)," Irwin said when asked his thoughts before his big putt. "I have got to be in Denver. There are people here that have got to go to work tomorrow. I think people work in L.A., I'm not sure.
"A lot of things go through your mind. I am going, `OK, don't get stupid; don't get your downhill too hard.' The worst thing you can do is get into a three-putt situation and then you have got to play tomorrow or you lose it."
That didn't happen; Irwin's putt was dead-center all the way.
"I couldn't see any break," he said. "My heart was thumping and all that stuff. I did find an inner calm. A couple feet from the hole, I knew it was in."
Irwin's 72-hole total of 285 on rounds of 77-68-71-69 was 1-over-par on the rugged 6,906-yard, par-71 Riviera Country Club course.
Raymond Floyd, who led following each of the first three rounds, was alone in third place at 287 after a 74.
Irwin, the pre-tournament favorite, won despite carding a 6-over 77 on Thursday, leaving him seven shots off the pace.
He immediately left the course that day without speaking to reporters.
"I tried to forget it," he recalled. "There was nothing about the 77 that was worthy of any conversation. The best thing I determined was it was best not to talk about it, get it flushed from my mind.
"I wasn't that far out of it."
After shooting a 68 on Friday, Irwin said that was exactly what he needed, and he had to have another round like that along with an even-par score.
That's precisely what he got.
"Of all the tournaments on the senior tour, this is the one I wanted the most," Irwin said. "I'll not want to forget this for a long time. I'm real proud of it. This is a highlight of my career."
Irwin became the seventh player to win U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open tournaments, and set a senior tour record for poorest first round by a winner.
Irwin's fifth tournament victory of the year was worth $267,500 from a purse of $1.5 million, boosting his 1998 earnings to $2,002,750. He has finished no worse than a tie for fifth in 14 senior tournaments this year.
Irwin, 53, led all seniors in earnings two years ago at $1,615,769, and was first again last year at $2,343,364.