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Hale Irwin seeks sixth straight Turtle Bay title

Hale Irwin is back in his favorite place, shooting for six straight titles at the Turtle Bay Championship.

The Champions Tour's first full-field event of the year starts Friday. Irwin has won it five straight times -- a first in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event -- and seven overall.

"It's something I'm very proud of, certainly, but I put that behind me," he said. "That's for you guys to write and for me not to think about. Once you start thinking about the past and the laurels of the past, then you forget about the future and the immediate problems that confront me right now."

The Aloha State has been Irwin's playground ever since he won the Hawaiian Open on the PGA Tour in 1981. He has won eight official and three unofficial events in Hawaii, racking up $3.9 million here.

Irwin's opponents credit his experience and mastery of the islands' tricky tradewinds. Irwin said there's even more to it -- sort of a home-course advantage for the Missouri native.

"Say what you want to about the spirit of Hawaii and its people. Perhaps I feel some of that. Perhaps I feel a part of that. But it's an environment which seems to do well for me," he said.

Even with a record 44 career victories on the 50-and-over tour, including four wins last year, Irwin feels he needs to improve his game to keep up with the improving talent.

He's coming off a 10-under 206 performance at last week's MasterCard Championship on the Big Island that put him in a tie for 21st in the winner's-only field of 35.

Loren Roberts shot a 25-under 191 in ideal conditions at Gualala Country Club to shatter the Champions Tour record for relation to par in a 54-hole event. He also broke the tour record for birdies in a three-round tournament with 26.

"I just got lapped there. Shoot 10-under-par and got beat by 15 strokes," he said. "That indicates the play that is going on at the Champions Tour. ... As the saying goes, 'These guys can really play."'

Dana Quigley, last year's Player of the Year and leading money winner, has another reason for the unusually low scores.

"I know 11 guys cheated and they took shortcuts," laughed Quigley, who finished 12th at MasterCard. "I found out later that the guys went from the first green to the fourth tee. Next year, I'll know better."

With wet and windy weather this week at the Oceanside Arnold Palmer Course, birdies will be much more difficult to come by.

"We're going have to dust off our long irons for this place," Quigley said. "Last week, we never used them except for a couple of par 3s. This is the ultimate test here."

Last year, Irwin held off Quigley by five strokes, winning with a Turtle Bay record 16-under 200.

Four other golfers had four consecutive victories in an event, including Tiger Woods (Bay Hill Invitational, 2000-03), Gene Saracen (Miami Open, 1926, 1928-30), Walter Hagen (PGA Championship, 1924-27) and Tom Morris Jr. (British Open, 1868-70, 1872).

Irwin, who began his streak with a victory at Kannapolis in 2000, said a key for him has been playing the more difficult holes more conservatively to avoid the water and putting up a disastrous score.

"I'm not afraid to play the course in the wind. I'm not afraid to play any course, frankly, but what these conditions do is make the course longer and makes those longer holes that play into the wind that much more difficult," he said.

Quigley said big-hitting players in the field like Jay Has and Craig Staler will benefit from the wet conditions because there won't be as much roll in the soaked fairways. But he's not betting against Irwin, either.

"Halo’s got something to prove and he's got a lot of momentum on this golf course," Quigley said. "There's a lot of guys. They'll forget my name real quick here."



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