LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After yet one more storm overnight Sunday night and one more subsequent multi-hour delay to put the course back in shape, the 65th Senior PGA Championship finally finished up in fine fashion late Monday afternoon. And after worries over the weather for more than four days, the fifth day turned into a scintillating battle between Hale Irwin, at 58 the most accomplished player in senior golf history, and Jay Haas, at 50 and making his very first senior start.
In the end, the tournament came down to one hole, the 535-yard, par-5 18th. Haas managed only a par, while Irwin birdied it for a one-shot victory and his fourth Senior PGA Championship. Irwin finished at 8-under 276, while Haas was at 7-under 277.
Irwin nursed a one-shot lead down the stretch, then uncharacteristically stumbled with a bogey on the par-4 17th to back into a tie with Haas at 7-under.
Haas, meanwhile, hit his approach over the green on the par-5 18th hole and into the thick rough, very near where the championship trophy was on display. With Irwin watching from the fairway, Haas chipped up to about six feet, but left his birdie try out to the right.
Irwin rocketed a wood onto the back fringe on the left side of the green, but on the far side of a big rise between his ball and cup. Irwin rolled his approach putt up and over the ridge to within two feet, and tapped in the birdie putt for a memorable victory.
The battle had come down to Irwin and Haas when Tom Watson and Craig Stadler were unable to make a move and Dave Barr and John Harris stumbled out of contention down the stretch.
Craig Stadler wound up in third place at 5-under 279 after a final-round 69 that tied Mark James for the low round of the day. James tied for fourth at 2-under 282 along with Dave Barr and Tom Watson. Mark McNulty and Gil Morgan tied for seventh at 1-under 283.
Among other prominent players farther down in the field, former Senior PGA champion Allen Doyle was in a group at 2-over 286, while D.A. Weibring ended up at 3-over 287. Tom Kite finished at 5-over 289, while Doug Tewell, who won the rain-shortened 2000 Senior PGA Championship, finished at 4-over 290 along with Bobby Wadkins.
Fuzzy Zoeller struggled to an 80 Sunday � he had plenty of company in the high numbers � and finished at 7-over 291, while former U.S. Senior Open champ Graham Marsh and 2002 European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance wrapped up at 9-over 293. NBC golf analyst Gary Koch posted a score of 11-over 295, former British Open champ Bob Charles, at age 68, finished at 15-over 299 alongside two-time PGA champion Larry Nelson.
Play resumed for the last time at 1 p.m. ET Monday with the skies over Valhalla Golf Club bright and clear, but with the winds whipping at speeds up to 25 mph and seemingly strengthening as the leaders made their way down the back nine. The wind made par the score to shoot for on Monday, but the course was in remarkable shape given allit had been through.
Two more weather delays and a saturated course meant only one thing in the Senior PGA Championship on Sunday. The senior stars would be back on Monday after the overworked and amazing grounds crew at Valhalla Golf Club put the course in playing shape -- again.
Irwin held a one-stroke lead over Barr and Haas when the final round was suspended Sunday afternoon. A powerful front that spawned tornadoes in Indiana and heavy thunderstorms in Kentucky triggered the fourth weather delay in four days.
Course superintendent Mark Wilson said Friday the course had already absorbed more than 5 inches of rain during the previous week. Another eight-tenths of an inch fell Sunday morning -- delaying the start of play by 3 hours, 45 minutes -- and strong showers pounded the course late in the afternoon.
Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America's managing director of tournaments, acknowledged the course was saturated but expressed confidence that Wilson and the grounds crew would have the course playable on Monday.
"Mark Wilson and his crew have performed seven days of miracles," Haigh said.
Haigh had said organizers were determined to complete 72 holes this year. The 2000 Senior PGA Championship, played in Florida, was shortened to 54 holes after seven weather delays.
"We have stated all along that we would play into Monday," Haigh said, "and that is our intent, as a major championship to play 72 holes. I do not anticipate we would go into Tuesday at this point.
"It's frustrating. None of us like stopping and starting and having an inch of rain every night and having wet feet and wet pants. That's human nature. But we're keeping, certainly, a positive attitude on it."
Irwin finished the final nine holes of his third round Sunday but bogeyed the only one hole he completed in the final round. The 58-year-old star, who swept the 1996-98 titles at PGA National, has posted three straight rounds of 69 or better.
Barr, who moved into contention with a third-round 69, finished his day with a birdie at No. 2.
Haas, a PGA Tour regular making his Champions Tour debut, matched Barr's third round by nearly acing the par-3 11th with a 7-iron and sinking a 12-foot, downhill putt on 17. He parred the first two holes of his final round before the suspension.
Copyright 2004 by PGA.com. All rights reserved.