Nationwide Championship
Nationwide Championship
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Irwin wins with eagle on 18

Hale Irwin had come close to winning the Nationwide Championship on several occasions. Finally, he finished the job.

And, he did it dramatically, in capturing his first tournament of 1999.

Irwin, the Senior PGA Tour player of the year the past two seasons, ended his six-month drought by knocking in an eagle on No. 18 to win the Nationwide Championship by two strokes over Bob Murphy.

It came on a difficult course where he had finished second in three of the last four years and third in 1996.

"I really like it," Irwin said. "You never have an easy shot. Basically, I think that's one of the reasons I play so well here.

"I respond to this course. It's not just ho-hum, hit a driver and hit it again. On this course, you really have to be careful where you put your shots," he said.

Irwin, who had won 16 times in 1997-98, shot a 69 for a 10-under-par 206 to edge Murphy, who shot a final round 68 over the par 72, 6,885-yard Golf Club of Georgia course.

After his eagle on the par 5, 533-yard hole fell in the cup, Irwin raced toward the ropes alongside the 18th green and exchanged high-fives with spectators, reminiscent of 1990 when he won the U.S. Open at Medinah.

Irwin held a two-stroke lead over Jose Maria Canizares and Allen Doyle entering the final round, but was caught and passed when Murphy, playing one group ahead of him, birdied No. 15 to go to 8-under.

Irwin made 14 consecutive pars before gaining a tie with Murphy with a 20-foot birdie of his own on 15. He then won it on the final hole with his wedge from "74 yards," he said.

"The last hole I played to perfection. A 3-wood, 5-iron and sand wedge makes for a pretty nice ending," said Irwin, whose chose to lay-up instead of trying to go for the green in two.

"I wanted to get closer so I had a more comfortable shot. I wanted less than 85-95 yards and I did that," he said.

The 53-year-old Irwin, earned $210,000, more than doubling his season's earnings to $390,860.

His best finish in seven previous tournaments this year was a fourth-place tie at the GTE Classic on Feb. 21.

Irwin, whose last win was the Energizer Senior Tour Championship on Nov. 8, won for the 21st time on the over-50 circuit after 20 wins on the regular PGA tour.

Murphy, who had five birdies and a bogey, earned $123,200. He had a chance for a birdie on No. 18, but missed a 10-footer.

"I still felt like I was still in the game at 18 even with a par," he said.

Christy O'Connor and Canizares were another stroke back at 209. O'Conner had a 68 and Canizares a 70.

Doyle, the crowd favorite who lives about 120 miles away in LaGrange, Ga., and has won twice this year, soared to a 75 and was at 214, 2-under-par.

First-round co-leaders Georgia Archer and Graham Marsh were well back at 215 as was Senior Tour leading money-winner Bruce Fleischer. Archer had a 73, Marsh a 75 and Fleischer a 69.

Larry Nelson, who won last week's Bruno's Memorial Classic, shot a 72 and finished at 218.

Defending champion John Jacobs shot a 71 and was far back at 220.

DIVOTS: Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen was a volunteer marshal during the tournament, patrolling the third green. ... Irwin becomes the third player -- Lee Trevino and Jim Colbert are the others -- to go over the $8 million mark in Senior Tour earnings with $8,011,113. It also increased his leading all-time earnings record on the regular tour and senior tour to $13,918,663. ... J.C. Snead shot a 66 today, the lowest round of the tournament, but finished at even-par 216 after rounds of 77-73. ... Dale Douglass, who shot 74-69--143 to win the $30,000 Super Seniors first prize, withdrew after nine holes today with a sore wrist. ... The 54-hole record is 198 (18-under-par) by Dave Stockton in 1994 at the Country Club of the South.