Irwin’s luck runs out late

The two-time U.S. Senior Open champ nearly won a third.
Monday, August 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:56 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

CREVE COEUR – When Hale Irwin rolled in a birdie putt at the par-5 17th hole Sunday he found himself in a familiar position: on the verge of capturing a U.S. Senior Open.

Irwin, who had a steady week with four rounds at even par or better, hung around the top of the leaderboard Sunday at Bellerive Country Club until disaster struck on the par-3 sixth hole.

Trailing the leader, Tom Kite, by two strokes at the time, Irwin’s first shot landed short of the green and in the water. Irwin’s second shot from the drop area was so good it hit the flag stick on the fly but bounced back to the edge of the water.

“I guess when you hit what you’re aiming at it’s a bad deal,” Irwin said after his round.

Irwin proceeded to make double-bogey and he seemingly slipped out of contention as Kite and eventual champion Peter Jacobsen continued to lower their scores, but the three-time U.S. Open champion and two-time U.S. Senior Open champion would not go quietly.

Birdies at the seventh, 10th, 12th and 17th left Irwin one stroke behind heading to the 18th tee, where he pulled his tee shot into a bunker on the left side of the fairway. Irwin managed to save par, but in the end it wasn’t enough.

“I knew I had to birdie the last two holes and hope (Kite and Jacobsen) didn’t,” Irwin said. “It all came true except for the 18th hole when I hit a bad drive.”

ST. LOUIS IS A HIT: Despite having Friday’s second round postponed because of rain and having to play a 36-hole final round in warm, humid conditions, there was no doubt in any player’s mind that the St. Louis area was a great place to play.

With more than 45,000 fans packing into Bellerive for each of the final two rounds, the players had nothing but great things to say about the supportive and impressive crowds.

“That scene at 18 with the grandstands full and people lining up the fairways four and five deep was a thrill,” Jay Haas said. “I think Bellerive put on an unbelievable show and the course was magnificent and the size of those crowds were terrific. They get behind their sports here that’s for sure.”

Bellerive, the site of the 1965 U.S. Open and 1992 PGA Tournament, was scheduled to host the 2001 World Golf Championship but the event was cancelled because it was set for the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Judging from the huge crowd turnout and positive feedback from the players, it may not be too long before another major tournament returns to Bellerive.

“I’ve never seen crowds like this anywhere,” Bruce Fleisher said. “This is a unique place and it would be great to come back.”

FUNNY GUY: Jacobsen is well known as outgoing and funny, and he didn’t disappoint after his win.

Among Jacobsen’s better lines was referring to himself as a “50-year-old, sweaty, fat guy” who gets to have fun playing games.

When asked about his ability to come back from disappointing missed putts, Jacobsen elaborated on his simple approach.

“The thing I’ve always tried to do on putting is look at it like a flow chart,” Jacobsen said. “Step one, hit the putt. Step two, pull it out of the hole and if that option is not available, repeat step one.”

STADLER STAYS PUT: Craig Stadler, who entered Sunday’s final round tied for the lead, ran into a problem: He couldn’t make a birdie.

Stadler made one birdie during his 36-hole round, and that birdie came at the 10th hole, which played as the toughest hole during the tournament. Aside from one birdie, Stadler made a double bogey and 34 pars to finish the tournament in a tie for seventh.

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