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Irwin stops, starts and keeps on going

Hall of Famer, who has the most wins on Champions Tour, overcomes a rain delay to shoot a four-under 67.

March 06, 2010|By Tony Lee

NEWPORT BEACH — Hale Irwin says he could have shot lower than his four-under-par 67 if not for Saturday’s weather delay.

Irwin said for whatever reason he is “not a real good stop and goer,” but the only two-time champion of the Toshiba Classic is tied for 14th and still in contention at the age of 64.

“I was playing pretty well until we had that delay,” Irwin said of Saturday’s 71-minute rain delay that ended at 11:15 a.m. “I went back out on eight and nine and quickly went bogey, bogey. But I got back with a couple of birdies on 10 and 11, and I played a very solid back nine.”

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However, after Friday’s opening round of 18 straight pars at Newport Beach Country Club, Irwin said the six birdies were a pleasant change.

“I feel like I’m close to playing well,” he said. “[Friday] could’ve been [Saturday’s] score but wasn’t, and I produced a score [Saturday] that probably is what I should’ve shot.”

Irwin is no stranger to birdies at the NBCC either.

He fired a then-course-record, nine-under-par 62 in the final round of the 1998 Toshiba Classic to rally from a five-stroke deficit to edge Hubert Green by one stroke.

But to the NBCC members, Irwin is remembered for what happened on the 17th hole that day.

Inside the NBCC pro shop is a standard bunker rake mounted on the wall with a signed scorecard and a picture of Irwin.

That’s because that rake stopped his golf ball from going into the water hazard. When Irwin lifted the rake, the ball did not move down the slope, he chipped it to within six feet and made par to win by one.

“Well I’m glad they do; I might have to borrow it,” Irwin said of the rake. “But it was a very fortuitous break for me at the time. Let’s not forget I made a three from down there, but the rake was placed in a good spot.”

According to Rich Ortega, the assistant golf professional at NBCC, Irwin sometimes stops by the pro shop to look at the rake still.

“He’s just like, ‘Oh, nice rake,’ ” Ortega said.

Each time Irwin won at the Toshiba Classic, he found it difficult repeat as champion. There has been no back-to-back champ at the Classic. Irwin said that it’s hard to shoot low back-to-back years because of the course’s design.

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