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Irwin looking to renew Hawaiian success

Hale Irwin couldn't have picked a better place than Hawaii to start the 2002 Senior PGA Tour.

Irwin and 32 other golfers tee off Friday in the season opening MasterCard Championship at the Hualalai Golf Club.

``I've had great success in Hawaii,'' said Irwin, making his seventh appearance in the tournament. He won in 1997 and tied for second in 1998 and 2000.

Irwin has won five tournaments in Hawaii, not including 1999 and 2001 Senior Skins Games. His last win on the islands was three months ago at the Turtle Bay Championship.

The Senior PGA Tour's winningest player with 32 victories, and the tour's career money leader, has a way of playing isle courses.

``What I try to do is let the wind be my friend instead of overpowering it,'' he said. ``If you don't have the trades, or some wind blowing, you'll find every course in Hawaii sitting ready for birdies. But when wind comes up, then you've got challenges.''

The players practiced their hitting into the infamous isle winds during the week at the 7,053-yard oceanside course.

``I think the key to this golf course is ducking the wind,'' said Jim Thorpe, last year's MasterCard runner-up behind Larry Nelson. ``The golf course here is in such good condition, if the wind don't blow, we're going to shoot it low.''

Thorpe said the players who tee off early in the day will have an advantage because the wind gets stronger as the day goes on.

Many golfers say their games are a little rusty coming back from the offseason.

``My game, it's OK, but not midseason shape,'' Irwin said. ``So I'm not trying to do midseason things right now ... I always come back to the fundamentals. If you don't do those well, it doesn't matter what time of the year, you're not going to play well.''

Thorpe said he's worked hard over the winter months following his $1.8 million season.

``I'm one of those guys that haven't put the clubs down,'' he said. ``I got the game on go pretty good.''

But he admits it will take some work getting back to form.

``We've been playing, but with no competition,'' he said.

Irwin said the Senior tour is getting more competitive with the level of talent improving, the equipment getting better and players staying in shape.

And he expects it to get only better with newcomers Ben Crenshaw, Tom Purtzer and Fuzzy Zoeller. They will be eligible to join the tour at the Royal Caribbean Classic, the first full-field event.

``We're playing for significant money, so guys are trying a little harder,'' Irwin said. ``And it's proving itself in the scores being shot.''

And gone are the days of one player winning nine tournaments in a season, like Irwin did in 1997.

Allen Doyle, the Senior PGA Tour's player of the year, won last year's money title with only two victories.

Nelson said the MasterCard is important in getting the season off to a good start. After winning last year by a stroke, he won his next event, the Royal Caribbean Classic.

''(The competition) is going to start from the get go,'' he said. ``It's going to start from this tournament.''

The $1.5 million tournament is limited to players who have won a major titlein the past five years or a regular senior event the past two years.


Irwin needs $112,195 to reach the $20 million mark in PGA winnings. He'll become the second player to accomplish the feat, joining Tiger Woods ... Jack Nicklaus withdrew from the tournament because of lingering back problems. He plans to play in next week's Senior Skins Game on the island of Maui ... The MasterCard is the first of 37 officials events on the Senior PGA Tour ... Hualalai was the second easiest course on the senior tour last year with a scoring average of 70.344 ... George Archer is the oldest and youngest playerto win the tournament. He won in 2000 at the age of 60 and in 1990 at 50.

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