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Irwin overtakes Colbert to win title

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii - All Hale Irwin needed to do to win his first Senior Skins Game title was to miss a putt.

His 18-foot birdie try on the final hole drifted off, but that didn't mean he didn't want to make it.

"Some might be thinking I was trying to miss the putt on the last hole; emphatically, I was trying to make it,'' Irwin said after winning two holes worth a total of $230,000 and his first Senior Skins title today.

"That's not the way I live my life and play my game. I was going for a 4.''

There could be no serious question that Irwin wanted to make the putt; if he had, the Senior Skins championship would still have been up for grabs, but he also would still have had a shot at the $160,000 at stake on No. 18.

As it turned out, five-time defending champion Raymond Floyd tapped in a 1-foot birdie putt to win that hole, the only one he did.

If Irwin had tied Floyd on the 18th, a playoff would have left Jim Colbert, who set a Senior Skins first-day record with $150,000, in the hunt for the title.

Colbert, however, finished the second day without winning any more skins.

Arnold Palmer, at 69 by 13 years the senior member of the foursome, did not win any holes or money.

Asked if he had a tough weekend, Palmer managed a smile.

"I'm getting used to tough weekends,'' he said. "Jimmy played great yesterday, and Hale played great today, and Raymond sneaked in there on the last hole to keep me from winning any skins.''

Still, Irwin liked Palmer's contribution.

"Arnold may have been shut out, but he still helped a lot of people and in an indirect way he helped himself,'' he said.

Irwin, shut out the first nine holes of the two-day event, began the second by sinking a 22-foot birdie putt worth $90,000 on No. 10. He ran his total up dramatically with another birdie putt, this time from eight feet, for $140,000 on No. 14.

As a Senior PGA Tour player, Irwin has won more money over the past two years than any player on any tour. In 1997, he became the first player on any tour to top $2 million by winning $2.3 million and raised that standard to $2.8 million in 1998. By contrast, David Duval set a PGA Tour record last year with $2.5 million.

The winner of 20 titles on each of the regular and senior circuits and a three-time U.S. Open champion, Irwin has earned $13.5 million since turning 50 and coming on the Senior Tour in 1995. He still plays regular tour events occasionally, and his 30-year earnings there total $5.9 million, not much more than he made the past two years as a senior.

Irwin had played in three previous Senior Skins, finishing second one year with $210,000 and third the other with $160,000.

The 53-year-old Irwin, three years younger than Floyd and four years younger than Colbert, won seven skins on just two holes to take the title this time.

"Maybe the third time was a charm,'' he said. "It's strange how the skins unfolds and how you can play very well and not come up with any skins, and not play so well and win them.

"Here were more carryovers this year, which created more importance on (certain) holes, as opposed to a skin here or there.''

Although his short game wasn't sharp, Irwin's timing for dropping birdie putts couldn't have been better.

On the first hole today, the 535-yard par-5 10th hole, he hit his second shot into a bunker, then hit his wedge fat, leaving the ball 22 feet from the pin. But he then rolled the ball into the cup, with just enough steam on the putt to get it over the front lip. The other three players, left with birdie tries of 15 feet or beyond, couldn't get it down to tie.

On the 413-yard, par 4 No. 14, Irwin knocked an 8-iron within 8 feet of the flag, then made the $140,000 putt after his playing partners missed their tries from longer range.

Floyd, who has won a total of $1.6 million in six Senior Skins appearances, barely missed birdie putts of around 8 feet both on the 16th and 17th holes today, allowing the pot to build for the closing hole.

"It was a nice way to finish. That's one thing you don't want to do, get shut out,'' Floyd said. "I had a marvellous run, winning five times in a row.''

In the skins format, there is prize money for each hole. A player wins the money if he wins the hole (the "skin'') outright. But if two or more players tie a hole, all are considered tied and the money is carried over to the next hole, with the pot continuing to build until one player wins a hole.

The Senior Skins Game had the first six holes were worth $20,000 each, the second six $30,000 each and the final six $40,000 each.

Hale Irwin 7 skins $230,000 Raymond Floyd 4 skins $160,000 Jim Colbert 7 skins 
$150,000 Arnold Palmer Hole Yards Par Prize Result ---- ---- --- ----- ------ 
10 533 5 $30,000 Irwin wins three skins, $90,000 11 402 4 $30,000 halved 12 198 
3 $30,000 halved 13 380 4 $40,000 halved 14 415 4 $40,000 Irwin wins four skins, 
$140,000 15 196 3 $40,000 halved 16 362 4 $40,000 halved 17 406 4 $40,000 halved 
18 513 5 $40,000 Floyd wins four skins, $160,000 --- -- ------- In 3,405 36 $330,000 
===== == ======== Total 6,938 72 $540,000 Hole Yards Par Prize Result ---- ---- 
--- ----- ------ 1 378 4 $20,000 Colbert wins one skin, $20,000 2 215 3 $20,000 
halved 3 587 5 $20,000 Colbert wins two skins, $40,000 4 389 4 $20,000 halved 
5 401 4 $20,000 halved 6 214 3 $20,000 halved 7 394 4 $30,000 Colbert wins four 
skins, $90,000 8 387 4 $30,000 halved 9 568 5 $30,000 halved --- -- ------- Out 
3,533 36 $210,000 Note: The first nine holes of this event, played at the Mauni 
Lani Resort in Kohala Coast, Hawaii, were completed Saturday, Jan. 30 and the 
second nine on Sunday, Jan 31.