Generally speaking, there's not much to say about the U.S. Senior Open chances for a 65-year old golfer who has placed in the top 10 just twice all year in 12 tournaments, and hasn't placed first anywhere since January of 2007. Especially when that 65-year-old golfer took bogeys in his last three holes of the opening round of the Open he's now playing.
However, when it comes to guys seemingly on the wrong side of the winning progression, Hale Irwin does being some upset potential to Sahalee this week. Before those final three holes today, Irwin was shooting par, which just 13 players accomplished or exceeded on Thursday. He's still the kind of shotmaker who can deal with a course like Sahalee, which takes the driver out of everyone's hands and replaces it with a need for precision. If Irwin gets hot enough to make the cut tomorrow - and +3 seems like a good line of demarcation right now - who's to say that he couldn't put up the numbers to make it happen?
Irwin tied for third in Fairways Hit percentage (10 of 14), and wasn't too far down the list in Greens in Regulation. It's important to remember, on a course like this, that only Allen Doyle has a higher Driving Accuracy percentage this season than does Irwin. And his final bogeys today had as much to do with a weather/course issue that plagued half the field on the first day - the groups that started after the clouds burned off had few good things to say about the speed and firmness of the fairways and greens.
If Irwin wants to put that upset together, the key will be to keep up the things he's doing right and make gains in the things that will set his opponents back. Right now, Irwin is at about Tour average in Putts per Round (30.30 to the Tour's 29.29), and the fast greens are already psyching some of the players out. He also needs to adjust his approach to the shorter holes - through 2010, his Birdie or Better Percentage rank rises with every increase in par - from 58th on Par-3s, to 40th on Par-4s, to 30th on Par-5s.
That's what Hale Irwin needs to do to pull this off. Is it out of the question? On this course, with these conditions, it's anyone's ballgame.
Here's the question for you, dear readers: If Irwin did win the U.S. Senior Open at age 65, would that be as impressive as Tom Watson's near-win at the British Open in 2009?