Hale Irwin has plenty of experience and a ton of confidence. Now, he has another major championship.
Irwin overcame a two-stroke deficit with a 6-under-par 65 to win his second U.S. Senior Open in three years. He finished with a 17-under 267 Sunday, the lowest total in tournament history, surpassing Gary Player's 270 in 1987.
"I never underestimate my opponent, but I never underestimate my talents," said Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open winner. "There is room for more (championship trophies) in my house."
Bruce Fleisher, who had led after the first three rounds, shot a 70 and finished at 270. He was seeking his 11th senior victory in two years.
"Hale Irwin loves his position, has been in this position a hell of a lot more times than I have," Fleisher said. "In fact, I can't even remember the last time I have been in this position. In fact, I don't think I was ever in this position."
Hale Irwin overcame a two-stroke deficit to win the U.S. Senior Open Sunday. (CBS SportsLine)
"He proved he can play," Irwin said of Fleisher. "He's not a flash in the pan."
But Fleisher's resume pales in comparison to Irwin's.
A journeyman who won just once in 27 years on the regular tour, Fleisher was seeking to become the third golfer to win the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur titles. Fleisher, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1968, would have joined Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in that elite group.
"You spell it E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E, you have to underline it, and you have to be there," Irwin said. "You on't go train for it; you don't practice it. You don't go buy some at the store. It's immeasurable.
"For Bruce, each time out, it's more experience. You can't measure experience. I think Bruce learned a lot today."
Irwin shot a third-round best 65 to get within two strokes of the lead. He wiped out the two-stroke deficit on No. 1, took a one-stroke lead on No. 4 and made it two strokes on No. 5.
"I did what I wanted to do early," said Irwin, who birdied three straight on the front nine for a four-stroke turnaround. "I let Bruce know I'm there, and put pressure on him."
Fleisher got in trouble on No. 1 when he sliced a drive into the right fairway bunker. He missed a 6-foot par putt, and bogeyed the hole to share the lead as Irwin birdied with a 5-footer.
"Hale was really on," Fleisher said. "I didn't get off to a good start and he got the momentum. I blipped the first hole. I gambled and lost."
Irwin said he was surprised with Fleisher's approach on No. 1.
"I really couldn't believe he played it," Irwin said. "My camp was encouraging it, saying `Go for it. Go for it.'"
"Hale's a good player and tough to beat," Kite said. "It would've been interesting to see if one of us could've put some pressure on him."
Irwin took the lead for good when he made a 4-foot putt for birdie on No. 4 while Fleisher pushed a 4-footer for birdie to the right.
A nice approach on the 5th set up a 3-foot birdie for Irwin as he took a two-stroke lead.
"The momentum created yesterday carried to today," Irwin said. "What I wanted to accomplish, I got done with a good start."
Fleisher, showing signs of frustration for the first time all week, disgustedly pointed to the green when he barely missed a birdie putt on No. 5.
He lifted his spirits with a nice approach on No. 6 that nearly kissed Irwin's ball as both players made nearly identical 3-foot putts.
Fleisher cut the deficit to one stroke with a birdie on No. 8, but Irwin regained a two-stroke lead with a birdie on No. 12.
"I never put the ball in position where I can be aggressive," Fleisher said. "I wasn't really focused and that happens from time to time."
Irwin barely missed birdies on Nos. 9 and 13 before getting one on 17. He flipped his putter in the air and bent over in anguish after his putt rimmed out on 9, but never faltered.
"I'm not really on my swing. I went with instincts,"> Irwin said.
Fleisher parred the 10th hole after a nice shot from the bunker, but missed a birdie for a share of the lead on No. 11. He didn't challenge the rest of the day.
"I felt if I could put pressure on him, I could beat him," Fleisher said. "It went the other way."
Now the debate continues as to who is the best player on the senior tour.
"Statements are made and statements are forgotten," Irwin said when asked if he was trying to prove his case.
"He's the better player this week," Fleisher said with a smirk.
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