Toledo, Ohio – Hale Irwin didn’t shoot the lowest round Saturday at the 32nd U.S. Senior Open, but his 5-under-par 66 at Inverness Club was by far the most notable score among the contenders.
Raining, uh, Hale on a venerable layout that he first conquered 32 years ago, Irwin managed to equal his age with that 66, a feat not often achieved in a major championship.
I shot my age, let's put it that way, Irwin began in assessing his round on a steamy afternoon in the northwest corner of the Buckeye State. Any time you can do that when you're at any age, it's pretty nice to do. I didn't even realize it until I was reminded after we finished the round. I was more intent on trying to make that putt at the last hole than I was anything else.
Yes, Irwin still has plenty of competitive fire, even if it has been a few years since the last of his record 45 Champions Tour titles. A two-time U.S. Senior Open champion, in 1998 and 2000, Irwin stands at 7-under 206 through 54 holes and has put himself in the picture for his first win since the 2007 MasterCard Championship at Hualalai.
His age-equaling 66 is the lowest in U.S. Senior Open history. Bob Charles shot 70 in the 2006 championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. Jim Colbert is believed to hold the record with a 62 at the 2003 Senior British Open at Turnberry, Scotland.
Irwin conjured memories of his 1979 performance here at Inverness, when he won the second of his three U.S. Open titles. That year, he moved to the front with a third-round 67. Of course, those memories are kind of sketchy on the details.
I can't remember. Somebody might be able to tell me. I opened with kind of a 74‑ish, 75‑ish kind of a round [74 actually], and then I just really played well in the middle rounds, said Irwin, a Missouri native who now lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz. I don't remember specifically, it could have been like a couple of 67s or something like that [he shot 68-67]. But I do remember playing very crisply, and that's kind of the way today was. I hit a lot of good shots.
Indeed, Irwin made seven birdies against a pair of bogeys, and several of them were of the stress-free, tap-in variety of 2 feet or less. His longest birdie putt, from 14 feet, came at the par-4 13th. He nearly aced the par-3 15th with a 3-iron, and at 17, the one that got him to his age, Irwin laced a 4-iron to within 1 foot of the hole.
If it's a nicely defined target then I’m better, and that's what this kind of course does for me, he said. I'm better off when it's tighter. The iron game for me seems to be better suited when the greens are small and the targets are well defined.
He has his sights set on a well-defined target Sunday, and that’s the top of the leaderboard. Irwin, who hasn’t finished in the top-10 in the U.S. Senior Open since finishing runner-up in 2004, intends to remain aggressive, put up a score, and see where that leads him.
I have to shoot this or better probably tomorrow to have even an outside chance, Irwin said. I've got to go out and really play exceptionally well tomorrow. All those shots I hit well today, I've got to do it again, and then hit more good shots and make more putts.
Regardless of your age, doing this kind of thing is always fun; I don't care at what level, if it's at the club level, if it's at the amateur level. When you go out and you post this kind of a score in whatever competition you're in, it's always great fun. It was really nice to kind of experience that once again.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.