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Irwin finishes like a champion for a 64

The 61-year-old eagles his final hole, giving him a two-shot edge in the AT&T Champions Classic.

March 17, 2007|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Hale Irwin tied a tournament course record with an eight-under-par 64, seizing the first-round lead in the AT&T Champions Classic on Friday.

Irwin, 61, eagled the ninth hole at the Valencia Country Club -- the 18th hole for him, because he'd started on the 10th -- and took a two-stroke lead over Isao Aoki, David Edwards and Jim Thorpe.

Fuzzy Zoeller, Loren Roberts and John Jacobs were another stroke back with five-under 67s in the Champions Tour event.

"I'm always delighted to play like this," Irwin said, adding that the warm, cloudless day made for "absolutely ideal scoring conditions. We knew we'd have to go low today."

Temperatures reached the low 90s in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles.

"It was perfect," said Dave Stockton, who finished at three under. "A little wind came up the last eight or 10 holes, but it's the best shape I've ever seen the golf course."

Irwin's day began with a bogey on the 470-yard, par-four 10th hole. By the time he finished with the eagle, he had tied four players for the one-day tournament record at Valencia: Walter Morgan and Larry Nelson in 2001, Joe Inman in 2004 and defending winner Tom Kite last year.

Kite, who shot 12 under over the three rounds last year, opened with a three-under 69. So did past winners Gil Morgan (1996, '97, '04) and Tom Purtzer (2003). Jay Haas, who won the Toshiba Classic last Sunday in Newport Beach, also was five shots back.

With his 67, Roberts posted his 33rd consecutive Champions Tour round of par or better, breaking a record held by Nelson.

Irwin, with 45 wins on the Champions Tour and three U.S. Open victories in his 29-year PGA Tour career, also posted the lowest first-round score since the tournament moved to Valencia in 2001 from the Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles.

The bogey on his first hole "was like an alarm clock going off," he said. "It was time to go."

He did, making three straight birdies, and seven overall.

He got his eagle on his final hole, a 500-yard par five, when he followed his drive with a four-iron that landed six feet from the cup, then made the putt.

Irwin is rebounding from a disappointing 2006, when he failed to win a Champions Tour event for the first time since he joined the series in 1995.

*

Three players withdrew because of medical problems: Scott Hoch with a hand injury, and Peter Jacobsen and R.W. Eaks with back ailments.

james.peltz@latimes.com.

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