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Irwin proves his record worth

Hale Irwin already has become the first player to win $2-million in a season, but money totals do not offer a fair comparison of previous eras.

Irwin has done his part to take care of that, too. He has nine victories on the Senior PGA Tour this year, tying the record set by Australia's Peter Thomson in 1985, when the senior circuit was not nearly as lucrative or deep with talent.

It is the most victories by a man on the U.S. or European tours since Sam Snead won 11 times in 1950. Mickey Wright won 13 times on the LPGA Tour in 1963.

Irwin has two more chances to get victory No.

10, at this week's Ralphs Classic in Los Angeles and next week at the Senior Tour Championship.

"The 10 victories now has become the goal to try and reach," Irwin said during a conference call. "Back when we were at six and seven and there was talk of nine, we had left out the number eight. Nine got sort of set aside. Now 10 is a goal.

"I'm not trying to win. I'm just trying to win a golf tournament. That's been the formula all year. I've not looked at a certain number of wins that will make a year."

Irwin is averaging 68.93 strokes and has played 41.5 percent of his rounds in the 60s. The longest period he went without a victory was six tournaments, and in those he had two seconds, a fourth and a fifth. He is averaging $101,494.

He also started strong, with victories in his first two events and three wins in his first six.

"It just got started so quickly the first couple of weeks right out of the box," Irwin said. "It was already a good year then. We all know the game of golf is kind of fickle. It comes and goes. My year was already good, and I was just trying to make it better. Don't get hung up on what you've done. The $2-million mark and the victory mark were not on my mind."

Irwin said he learned from last year, when he was disappointed in winning just twice. He was trying too hard and had seven second-place finishes.

"I've applied myself better, stayed focused and patient," Irwin said. "Last year, I was pushing too hard to win golf tournaments. I wasn't trying to win too early on a Saturday or Sunday. There's a fine line I'm talking about here, but it helped."

FLORIDA OPEN: Rod Curl Jr., John Pettit and Jay Townsend shot 6-under-par 65 to share the first-round lead Wednesday in the 56th annual Florida Open in Pompano Beach.

TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: The rich get richer. The top 30 money-winners on the PGA Tour get to play for the biggest purse of the year this weekend at the Tour Championship in Houston. The total purse is $4-million, and the winner will earn $720,000 _ a figure that would have led the tour in earnings for an entire year until 1987. This year, that figure would have earned the final spot in the 30-player field.

The last-place finisher in the field will receive $64,000, which has to make Billy Andrade cringe. Andrade finished 31st on the money list and missed the Tour Championship by $5.

Tiger Woods leads the list with $1,969,233. Only Justin Leonard and Davis Love III have a chance to catch him by winning the tournament.

EUROPEAN MONEY: With only Bernhard Langer posing a serious challenge, Colin Montgomerie is favored to win a record fifth straight European money title entering the Volvo Masters in Jerez, Spain. If Montgomerie wins the money title, he would add the $256,000 bonus pool to his $982,000 earnings. Langer trails by $72,000.

BIGGER PIE: Three international events beginning in 1999 will have a purse of at least $4-million each, the PGA announced.

The World Golf Championships will consist of a match-play event in February, a stroke-play invitational in August involving Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team members and stroke play in November with a field taken from the World Golf rankings. Each tournament will have a first prize of at least $720,000.

JCPENNEY UPDATE: Mike Hulbert did not make the Tour Championship field, which is why he was at the Westin Innisbrook Resort on Wednesday to promote the JCPenney Classic. Hulbert, who earned $317,247 to rank 76th, will defend his title with partner Donna Andrews from the LPGA Tour during the mixed-team tournament Dec. 4-7. For ticket information, call (813) 942-5566.

Among the teams in the $1.5-million tournament are John Daly-Laura Davies, Paul Azinger-Susie Redman and Jeff Sluman-Dottie Pepper. The winning team will split $375,000.

QUALIFYING: Safety Harbor's John Huston finished out of the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list for the first time since joining the tour full time in 1988. Huston, 36, had never finished lower than 78th. But his 141st-place finish does not mean he has to return to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. Huston can use a one-time exemption for being among the top-50 money winners all-time. He is ranked 48th with $4,067,796. Clearwater's Greg Kraft doesn't have such a luxury. He finished 139th with $152,109. Only the top 125 are exempt for next year. He is faced with going back to the qualifying tournament.

BIG HEIST: Someone stole 107,000 golf balls last weekend after slicing through a locking plate at a Nitro Golf warehouse in Port St. Lucie. The 214 boxes of recycled balls, valued at $23,540, were recovered Wednesday after someone who said he bought them from a wholesaler suspected they might be stolen and contacted Nitro. No one had been arrested Wednesday.

QUOTE MARKS: Sweden's Joakim Haeggman was on his way to shooting 27 on the front nine of the Old Course at St. Andrews during the recent Dunhill Cup. Leonard, who was keeping Haeggman's scorecard, said, "I made sure I kept the card real neat. I knew it was going on a wall somewhere."

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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