Hubie Green rallied from fifth place with four birdies on the last eight holes while all the leaders faltered to capture the $225,000 Heritage Golf Classic today by three strokes over Hale Irwin.
"This wasn't like Sawgrass last week. This wasn't a struggle for survival, but the wind was swirling down the fairways, between the trees, and the back nine was a test of shot making and guts," Irwin volunteered. "Hubert had the shots . . . . . and the guts."
He also had the right club in his hand to play the par-3, 176-yard 17th hole that decided this championship, while Irwin felt he made a mistake in iron selection.
Green led Irwin by one stroke at that point. Both men hit six-irons. Green's ball stopped five feet from the cup, which led to a birdie, while Irwin's shot landed on the fringe, from where he three-putted.
That gave Green his three-stroke advantage, and a safe cusion for the closing hole.
Green posted a 67 today for a 277, seven under par. The $45,000 first prize increased his career earnings to more than $1,000,000. He has earned $117,499 this season, a total second only to Jack Nicklaus. Green, who also won the Hawaiian Open, joins Nicklaus and Tom Watson as the only double winners in 1978.
Green also won the Heritage in 1976 and led by seven strokes in the last round on another occasion, only to lose.
"The greens are so small here (at Harbour Town) and the fairways tight, so that you know the scores are going to go up when conditions are like they were today, with the wind," Green said. "the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th were particularly tough, into the wind or against across-wind. So, when I birdied the 11th and was four under I said to my caddy, 'If I can just get into the clubhouse five under, I'll sit on it.'"
Larry Nelson, who began the final round five strokes ahead of Green and Irwin, was still three shots ahead of Green when the eventual winner made that comment. But Nelson's game fell apart over the back nine. He wound up tied for third place with Orville Moody at 281 while Green put together an exceptional closing surge.
The most important shot Green struck all day might have been the 11th fairway. His drive had left him 210 yards from the front fringe, with another 15 feet to the pin. Green killed a three-wood, to within four feet of the hole.
An 18-foot putt for a birdie on No. 13 kept the momentum going and Green followed with birdie putts of 18 feet on No. 15 and the four-footer on No. 17 that ended Irwin's chances.
Nelson, seeking his first triumph on the PGA tour, blasted the ball from a sand trap into the cup on No. 7 for a birdie that, briefly, seemed to renew his confidence. David Graham was his closest pursuer at the time, but Graham took a double bogey by hitting into a tree at the 13th and Nelson double-bogeyed the 15th by three-putting from 5 feet.
"I'd like to thank all my fellow competitors for falling on their butts so I could get second money," Irwin remarked. "Everybody came back, and when there are that many in front of you, you don't expect it. You think you have to make things happen then, if you're to get into contention. That wasn't necessary today."
Green, Irwin and Watson (285) will take a week off before going to Augusta, Ga., for the Masters April 6-9.
"I'm delighted to be over a million ($1,013,195)," Green declared, "but I don't think going over a million means that much, not when you consider that players like Hogan and Snead never had the opportunity to get there great as they were.
"The million doesn't overly impress me . . . but I'll take it."
Green is golf's 16th millionaire.