TULSA, Okla. - Hale Irwin's resume is filled with many remarkable achievements, a majority of them at the U.S. Open. He is only one of five players ever to have won the Open three times. His victory at Medinah in 1990 made Irwin, then 45, the oldest Open winner ever.
Irwin added a line to his glittering record in yesterday's first round of the 101st U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club before play was suspended because of bad weather. When the round is completed today, Irwin could set another Open record.
With a 3-under-par 67, Irwin could become the oldest first-round leader at the Open in the history of modern golf and possibly the oldest ever. The legendary Harry Vardon is believed to be the oldest. Vardon was 50 when he led the 1920 Open by a stroke after three rounds before tying for second.
Irwin already accomplished something else that might have been more amazing: he stole the spotlight from defending champion Tiger Woods.
Woods, who teed off shortly before Irwin finished his round, managed only a little more than nine holes before play was interrupted by rain, lightning and a tornado threat at 3:39 p.m. CDT. Looking to win his fifth straight major championship, Woods was 3-over at the time.
Of the 66 players who completed their rounds, Irwin leads Loren Roberts and Stewart Cink by two strokes. Four players - Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Matt Gogel - were three strokes behind at even-par 70.
When play was called for the day at 5 p.m., it forced 90 players to come back today beginning at 7 a.m. CDT. Retief Goosen of South Africa was 3-under through seven holes. Toshimitsu Izawa of Japan was 2-under but had played just four holes.
Irwin can sleep in today, since he won't tee off until about 3 p.m.
In the meantime, he can also dream about joining legends Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to have won four Open titles.
"There's always the hopes and there's the expectations and sometimes there's reality," said Irwin. "You kind of hope they all meet in the middle somewhere. My hope was to go out and be competitive, to have this kind of round to establish credentials.
"I think too many people are saying, `Gosh, you're the oldest guy in the field. You're 56 years old.' But let's not forget that there are a few championships and three U.S. Opens to my title. So it's not like I've never been here before."
Yesterday's score matched the lowest of Irwin's 115 rounds in the Open. He also shot 67 in the third round in the 1979 Open at Inverness in Toledo, where he won his second Open title. Irwin shot 67 in the final round at Medinah to force a playoff, where he beat Mike Donald in 19 holes.
Just as he did at Medinah, when his 50-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole of regulation sparked a wild celebration around the green, Irwin took the lead on the treacherous par-4 18th hole yesterday. He played a skillful bump-and-run 2-iron fade from 198 yards to within 2 feet of the cup, and tapped in for a birdie.
"It was pretty much of a called shot," Irwin said later. "That's a shot I'm trying to hit. To say out there in the fairway, `I'm going to put it two feet from the hole,' that's stretching it. I won't say that. But it went pretty much as I had tried to hit it."
What was more astounding is that Irwin started out the round with two straight bogeys before quickly making two straight birdies. He then made birdies on the par-3 eighth hole and par-4 10th. But it was over the last seven holes that Irwin took the lead - and easily could've lost it.
He made an 18-foot birdie over a ridge on the par-3 14th. He also saved par twice, first from about 8 feet on the par-4 12th after bouncing his approach over the green, later after his drive on the par-4 16th hit some trees and Irwin needed to make a downhill 25-footer.
That putt came after Irwin had three-putted the previous hole from a similar distance.
"Probably the best putt made today, it took probably 10 seconds to get there," said Irwin. "It just did what I hoped it would do. It wasn't necessarily keeping the round together, but I think you could certainly classify it as keeping the momentum going."
After the ball dropped, Irwin pumped the air and waved his cap. Though not close to the reaction that followed his famous putt 11 years ago - Irwin ran around the green and high-fived the crowd - it was another instance that proved he is no longer the Mr. Ice Guy he was earlier in his career.
Nor is he ready to be a ceremonial player, particularly in this year's Open.
"Well, age is a three-letter word," he said. "But I think we try to make it something that's bigger if we let it. What I'm trying to say, if you keep yourself young at heart, if you don't accept the words, `I can't do it,' then you can certainly extend your career."
The performance by the former two-time All-Big Eight defensive back at Colorado and reigning Senior Open champion didn't surprise those younger than Irwin.