Hale Irwin said he didn't realize he was approaching his 1,000th tournament since becoming a professional in 1968 until somebody told him two weeks ago at the Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic. But this week will be the milestone tournament when the 64-year-old golfer tees it up at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am on Friday.
"It just doesn't seem possible," Irwin said. "I can still remember my first tournament in Memphis. I was as nervous as can be. I actually hit two people during that tournament, and I've never done that before."
Irwin is the Champions Tour's all-time wins leader with 45. He said he didn't start playing his best golf until he was 52, even though he won three U.S. Opens before that. This year Irwin has played in five senior events, with his best finish a fifth in the season opener in Hawaii. He is the 2005 Outback Steakhouse champion.
"When I got on this tour I knew this is where I should be," he said. "I didn't like to bounce around between tours. My focus has always been out here."
Playing in last week's Masters wasn't enough to keep several players from teeing it up this week in Lutz. Former Masters champions Tom Watson (1977, '81), Fred Couples (1992), Bernhard Langer (1985, '93), Craig Stadler (1982), Sandy Lyle (1988) and Mark O'Meara (1998) are in this week's field. Additionally, 1979 winner Fuzzy Zoeller is playing the Outback Pro-Am. He retired from Masters competition last year.
Celebrities teeing it up
While it is usually a guarded secret until tonight, we do know a couple of the celebrities who will play Friday. Actor and activist Michael J. Fox will play once again with Tim Simpson. The two played together last year when Fox made his debut at the tournament. Fox has Parkinson's disease, and Simpson needed brain surgery in 2005 to correct a benign essential tumor that made his left hand shake. Also, late-night host and actor George Lopez will play with Fuzzy Zoeller.
By the numbers
16 Players in this week's field who have won at least one major championship on the PGA Tour
59 Age of Hale Irwin when he won in 2005, making him the oldest champion in tournament history
65 Average score in 12 Champions Tour rounds for Fred Couples
200 Lowest three-round score at TPC Tampa Bay, shared by Jim Colbert, Bruce Fleischer and Mark McNulty.