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Stormy start for Tiger, U.S. Open

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2001

TULSA, Okla. -- It was a shot that Tiger Woods has made look routine, a 2-iron that pierces through the wind and stops within the shadow of a flag at high noon. Only this time, it belonged to a man twice his age.

Hale Irwin took off his cap and swirled it around, whipping the gallery lining the 18th fairway into a frenzy the way he did 11 years ago at Medinah when he became the oldest U.S. Open champion.

''Age is just a number,'' the 56-year-old Irwin said.

The only number that mattered when heavy storms soaked Southern Hills and suspended the first round was the 3-under 67 next to his name that made him the early leader Thursday at the U.S. Open.

''My purpose here this week is not to be ceremonial. It's to be competitive,'' Irwin said. ''And I think today established those bona fide credentials.''

All Woods established was that he was human.

 

The gallery is reflected in water as they watch the Tiger Woods group on the 13th hole during the first round at the U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Friday, June 15, 2001. Play was suspended Thursday due to rain and some players had to complete their first round Friday.

AP Photo/Laura Rauch

He pounded the turf with the bottom of his putter after getting a 45-foot birdie putt only two-thirds of the way there. He flung his wedge toward his caddie after a chunking a shot that led to a rare double bogey.

And when he left Southern Hills after play was suspended for good, 3-over par and in danger of dropping another stroke on the 10th hole, he had little to say to reporters.

''I'll talk to them tomorrow,'' Woods told a U.S. Golf Association official before climbing into a car.

When play resumes at 7 a.m. CDT Friday, Woods will face an 8-foot par putt and a long day of trying to make up for the lost time.

Retief Goosen of South Africa birdied the seventh hole just before the sirens sounded and was tied with Irwin at 3 under. Toshi Izawa of Japan was at 2 under after four holes.

Loren Roberts and Stewart Cink were the only other players who finished under par, both at 69.

Phil Mickelson made back-to-back bogeys on the back nine to finish at 70, along with Sergio Garcia, Angel Cabrera and Matt Gogel. Davis Love III, playing for the first time in two months because of neck and back injuries, bogeyed the last two holes for a 72.

Irwin, who qualified by winning the Senior Open, can become the oldest first-round leader of the U.S. Open since World War II if his lead stands. Where he goes from there is anyone's guess, but he won't rule himself out yet.

''It's not like I've never been here before,'' he said.

Irwin has won the U.S. Open three times, one fewer than Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan and two more than Woods. His last title came in 1990 at Medinah, when he was given a special exemption to play and beat unheralded Mike Donald in a playoff.

Who can forget Irwin prancing along the ropes slapping high-fives with the gallery after a 45-foot putt on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff?

There he was again Thursday, his hair more salt than pepper but the enthusiasm and desire unchanged.

He pumped his fist and mouthed ''Wow!'' to his caddie when he holed a momentum-saving 25-foot par putt on the 16th. And when he drilled his 2-iron into the crown of the hill from 198 yards and watched it hop up to the green and stop 2 feet from the hole, he was all smiles.

''I don't know if he's genetically blessed,'' said Loren Roberts, Irwin's playing partner and a mere pup at 45.

That was hardly the case for Woods, who is coming off a clean sweep of the majors and is trying to become the first player to win five straight majors.

His 2-iron sailed over the bunker and into the right rough on the opening hole, and Woods slumped his shoulders and tried to force a smile. He had to save par on the first two holes, and it didn't get any easier.

His 45-foot putt on No. 3 came up about 15 feet short. Woods walked slowly, the kind of gait expected out of a Senior Tour player like Irwin, until he reached the ball and slammed his putter into the ground. He wound up with a three-putt bogey, then plodded along with pars until disaster struck on the ninth hole.

With about 90 yards to the green, Woods hit his wedge fat and out to the right. It clipped a branch and plugged into the bunker, and he could do no better than blast out over the green into the thick Bermuda rough.

His pitch for par rolled 8 feet past the hole, and he lipped that out for double bogey.

Perhaps the storms were a blessing. Woods hung another shot out to the right and into the bunker on No. 10, blasting out to 8 feet when he hurried off the course.

With more storms coming and Southern Hills already soaked, the USGA called it a day after a delay of 90 minutes.

Woods was on the other end of the weather a year ago at Pebble, squeezing in his opening 65 before a series of fog delays. This time, he will have to play 26 holes on what figures to be a muggy, draining afternoon Friday.

He's not alone.

Jim Furyk was at 1 under through 10 holes, while Mike Hulbert, St. Jude Classic winner Bob Estes and David Toms were at 1 under and still on the front nine.

Ernie Els was even par through eight, while David Duval was even through 10.

The old man gets a little more rest. Irwin won't tee off for his second round until about 5 p.m. EDT, although the course could be at its toughest.

Irwin has been in this position before.

Two years ago in the PGA Championship at Medinah, he was just four strokes off the lead after 36 holes before he struggled on the weekend and tied for 41st. A year ago at Pebble Beach, he joined Woods as the only players to have two rounds in the 60s -- Irwin's middle rounds of 78-81 didn't exactly help his cause.

Still, the 67 was his lowest U.S. Open score since the final round at Medinah in 1990.

''There's always the hopes and there's the expectations and sometimes there's reality,'' Irwin said. ''And you kind of hope they all sort of meet in the middle somewhere.''

They converged in the most unlikely place, a Southern Hills course that was so tough that it reminded Irwin of Winged Foot in 1974. That was the year he won his first U.S. Open title with a 7-over 287.

That was 18 months before Tiger Woods was born.



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