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Irwin narrowly beats Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus simply couldn't help himself with a birdie putt on the 18th hole.

Given an opportunity to win the Senior Skins Game by missing a 4-foot putt on the final hole of regulation today, Nicklaus holed the putt to send the competition to an extra hole.

"I'm in a dilemma here,'' Nicklaus said before putting. "If I miss it, I win; If I make it, I have a chance to lose. But I never miss on purpose. I'll go for it, I promise.''

After he made it, he joked, "I want to stab myself.''

Hale Irwin, given a reprieve by Nicklaus, made a 3-foot birdie putt in the playoff to win the competition.

The three skins gave Irwin a total of seven, including the last six, and $320,000. Nicklaus could have won by missing, but he matched Gary Player's birdie to extend the event.

"There was never any doubt in my mind,'' Irwin said. "Those guys never, ever, under any circumstances, give in. They will never sacrifice the integrity of the game.''

Nicklaus finished second with $260,000 with Arnold Palmer adding $20,000. Player, the 2000 winner, failed to pick up a skin.

"I had no problem with Gary or Arnold winning that skin (on the 18th),'' Nicklaus said. "It would have been smart to miss that putt, but I'm not made that way. I've never missed one on purpose.

"I was very disappointed in the final outcome, but it was my own doing.''

Player said he knew what Nicklaus would do.

"I would have loved it if Jack missed that putt on 18,'' Player said. "It was a very interesting situation. But I know Jack too well.''

The final three skins were worth $180,000. Had Nicklaus missed the putt, Irwin would have finished with $140,000 and Player would have banked the remaining $180,000.

With three skins left in the pot, the four players returned to the 18th for the playoff.

There, Irwin hit his approach out of a sand divot within 3 feet and knocked it in for his second career Skins victory.

Nicklaus barely missed his 8-foot attempt for a birdie.

It was an uphill climb for Irwin until the big money closing holes.

He got back into contention by sweeping the last six skins, which were worth $300,000.

Irwin got a 4-footer at the 15th to earn $120,000 and set the stage for the playoff victory.

Between them, this year's Skins participants had won 239 tournaments, including 40 major championships, and nearly $37 million.

Each participant donated 20 percent of their winnings to charities with Irwin adding his portion of the purse to the St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Tiger Woods will return to Phoenix after skipping the 2000 event. Allsport.

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