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Irwin's blunder is Roberts' respite

Hale Irwin didn't figure to give up his longtime spot atop the Champions Tour without a battle.

But he also didn't figure to give it up with such a blunder.

Trying to deny upstart Loren Roberts his third straight victory on the 50-and-older circuit Sunday, Irwin blinked first when he knocked his 7-iron approach into the water fronting the 18th green at the Club at TwinEagles.

So instead of Irwin having a chance to capture his 45th Champions Tour title, he finished with double bogey that made it a lot easier on Roberts at the ACE Group Classic.

"It was a very comfortable distance," said Irwin, 60, of his 162-yard shot to the par-4 final hole. "The lie was a little tight and the ball was above my feet. I needed to hit it solid and I hit it heavy."

That allowed Roberts, 50, to win with par at the final hole and make Champions Tour history by becoming the first to win the first three events of the year.

Roberts shot 3-under-par 69 to finish at 14-under 202 and earn $240,000 from the $1.6-million purse. He finished one stroke ahead of second-round co-leader Brad Bryant (70) and R.W. Eaks (67). Irwin, who finished with 68, tied for fourth, two back, with Tom Watson (67). The other second-round co-leader, Don Pooley, shot 72, and tied for sixth.

Only two players, Don January (1981) and Larry Nelson (2001) had won the first two events of the season.

"There is a little bit of a load off of me because I was thinking about it on the back nine," said Roberts, who won eight times on the PGA Tour and has won four times in nine Champions Tour events. "I've got three wins this year, all came in different ways. This one was definitely done with an ugly stick."

Roberts joins five players to have won three in a row at any point, the last being Craig Stadler in 2004. He will attempt to join Chi Chi Rodriguez (1987) as the only players to win four straight when he competes in this week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, which begins Friday at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

Roberts got off to a quick start, birdieing three of the first six holes. But he cooled off and didn't make birdie the rest of the way. When he hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker at the par-5 17th, Roberts believed his streak could be coming to an end.

After hitting a 9-iron out of the bunker, he had nearly 190 yards to the pin and knocked a 4-iron just behind the hole. Although he missed the birdie putt from 10 feet, he had not heard that Irwin, playing one hole in front of him, knocked his ball in the water.

"It was very surprising," Roberts said. "Hale doesn't make mistakes like that. I'm not going to lie to you, it did make my tee shot and second shot on 18 a little easier."

Irwin fought his way into a tie with Roberts with birdie at the 15th hole, his seventh of the day. But he could not get another birdie, and will have some extra incentive when he defends his Outback title this week.

"To end it with a shot like that ," Irwin said. "It's going to be a long drive to Tampa, that's for sure."

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