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Irwin In Striking Distance


Teenager Sergio Garcia and new father Phil Mickelson walked down the 12th fairway with the other member of their threesome, 54-year-old Hale Irwin, having a fine time Friday. Mickelson made a sweeping motion with his arms. All three men laughed.

What could they have been talking about out there?

"The facts of life," Irwin said.

It's either an indictment on the game of golf or, to the fans at Medinah Country Club who cheered Irwin, one of its splendors that a 54-year-old man is enough of an athlete to be in a position to think about winning a major tournament.

But here's Irwin, 5-under-par after two rounds of the PGA Championship, and only four strokes off the lead.

"Will I keep it up the next two days?" Irwin said. "I feel like I can. I'm not here to roll over."

Is it any wonder golf has taken off, spawning more media attention than ever, not to mention a labor awakening? Young and old players on top of the leader board, foreign and domestic, multi-cultural (or at least going in that direction) -- if you can't sell in this expanding market, try paper towels.

Phil Mickelson walked down the 12th fairway with the other member of their threesome, 54-year-old Hale Irwin, having a fine time Friday. Mickelson made a sweeping motion with his arms. All three men laughed.

What could they have been talking about out there?

"The facts of life," Irwin said.

It's either an indictment on the game of golf or, to the fans at Medinah Country Club who cheered Irwin, one of its splendors that a 54-year-old man is enough of an athlete to be in a position to think about winning a major tournament.

But here's Irwin, 5-under-par after two rounds of the PGA Championship, and only four strokes off the lead.

"Will I keep it up the next two days?" Irwin said. "I feel like I can. I'm not here to roll over."

Is it any wonder golf has taken off, spawning more media attention than ever, not to mention a labor awakening? Young and old players on top of the leader board, foreign and domestic, multi-cultural (or at least going in that direction) -- if you can't sell in this expanding market, try paper towels.

Irwin's dash around the 72nd hole in 1990 got plenty of airplay prior to the Championship.>
The oldest and youngest players in the field got along wel during the first two rounds. (AP)

Now there's Irwin, shooting a 3-under 69 Friday and talking about experience conquering youth, brains over brawn, irons over woods and Woods.

That knowing chuckle you hear is coming from every middle-aged man who has no comprehension of the X-Games.

"There's not very much I haven't seen, not very much I haven't done," Irwin said. "The intensity level picks up on the weekend, and that's what I'm looking forward to."

It's a theme he sounded a few weeks ago after winning the Ameritech Senior Open outside of Chicago, which came on the same day of Jean Van De Velde's self-destruction at the Open Championship. Irwin was incredulous at the guy's inability to coax a double bogey out of the last hole to win a major.

Talk turned to Medinah, site of Irwin's 1990 U.S. Open victory, and he said he might still be able to teach the players on the regular tour a thing or two.

Now, the oldest player in the tournament is backing it up. That stunning .350 career winning percentage on the Senior Tour (21 of 60) means something after all.

"If I said I was surprised, then I wouldn't have any confidence," Irwin said.

The irony is that while Irwin marvels at Garcia and Tiger Woods, he isn't a fat old guy with a one-sport résumé. When asked to recall what he was doing at age 19, Garcia's age, Irwin said he was getting ready for football practice at Colorado, where he was a defensive back. Golf was an afterthought.

"If I played in two or three tournaments a summer, I felt lucky, between working on a construction job for eight hours a day and playing some golf at a daily fee course," Irwin said. "I'm not painting any 'poor guy' picture. But that was the truth."

The generation gap shows up in other areas, too. Somebody asked Irwin if he felt Ben Crenshaw might make him a captain's selection to the Ryder Cup team is he wins this tournament.

"Are we gonna get paid?" Irwin joked.

There's that issue again, one was still dominating conversation Friday, even in the middle of a splendid golf tournament.

"That team has a personality right now that I'm not sure I know," said Irwin, who has played on five Ryder Cup teams. "It's not like the teams I've been on in the past. When I'm playing and I see (Miguel Angel) Jiménez and Garcia and (Lee) Westwood on the leader board -- they're all going to be on that other (European) Ryder Cup team. I think our guys better buckle down and think about playing golf."

Soon, the old man was off to the fitness trailer for an afternoon workout, but not necessarily with visions of becoming the oldest person ever to win a major. Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA at age 48. Irwin said he never thought about it until interviewers brought it up Friday.

In fact, mixing up some words in a media session prompted Irwin to poke fun at himself.

"I can't think anymore," he said. "I have these Senior moments. I can't remember things."

Except how to play in a major on weekends.

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