Hale Irwin, henceforth to be known as Honest Hale, survived a classic case of the terrifying Open staggers to win his second U.S. Open championship today over the Inverness chamber of tortures.
"That is the hardest round of work - I won't call it golf - that I ever played in my life." Irwin declared after his fearfully wild 75 today gave him an even-par 284 total, two shots ahead of Gary Player and Jerry Pate.
Player shot the day's low round, 68, equaled by Jim Simons and Jack Nicklaus, Irwin owned up. "You just don't know how tough it is to get to the clubhouse with a lead when you can't hit anything in the bag straight," said the champion, whose even-par 35 on the front gave him a six-shot lead at the turn.
"I just couldn't get it to the barn fast enough," continued Irwin, who hit 11 drives into the Inverness wilderness and played the last two holes double-bogey, bogey. "I never knew it could feel so good to play so bad."
Throughout his 12 tour seasons, in which he won 10 previous tournaments and $1,505,874, Irwin has been known as the fierce-willed, self-contained man who hid his inner fires behind his spectacles and expressionless face.
This evening at sundown, in the wake of the truimph that he places far above all others, Irwin let down his short hair.
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is," said Irwin, who felt enormous pressure - even when he stepped to the 17th tee with a fiveshhot lead - when others thought he was having a cakewalk.
"I didn't sleep too well last night. I couldn't turn off my engine. The hedhead and I," said Irwin, nodding to his wife Sally, "had conversations all night long. I didn't want to throw this second Open awway.
"I woke up today, after about two hours sleep, and I was nervous, anxious. I never wanted to win anything this much.
"This was not some casual Sunday round of golf. If you say you don't feel this pressure, you're not human. Or you're taking something funny. Look at the whole field - everybody choked.
"On the practice tee, I was hitting it great. As soon as I got on the course, I couldn't find it," the winner went on.
"I really felt like I won the tournament on Saturday (with a 67). Today, I survived. I may be more proud of today's round. I just feel fantastic.You'd have to be sitting where I am . . .to know how proud I am of myself. Hopefully, I can hang my star a little higher now and let it shine."
The only man with a reasonable chance to frighten Irwin more than he was scaring himself was playing partner Tom Weiskopf, who began the day three shots behind. But Weiskopf, who never has won a major American title in 50 attempts, bogeyed three of the first six holes, never got closer than four shots thereafter and finished bogey-bogey-bogey for a 76 that dropped him into a fourth-place tie at 288 with Larry Nelson and Bill Rogers.
This Open's turning point came on the seventh and eight holes today, thanks to Irwin's grit and dumb luck.
"I got three great breaks in two holes," said Irwin, who had gone since October 1977 without a win. "That kept me afloat. Otherwise, I could have sunk very easily."
At the seventh, the magnificent uphill, 452 yard par-4 that is Inverness' most famous and difficult hole, Irwin hit one of his 11 egregious drives - "absolutely terrible."
But a fortuitous lie in the left rough enabled him to gamble with a four-wood and hit the green on the fly for a stabilizing par.
At the eighth, Irwin's drive, if possible, was worse, slicing far right. After considerable crashing, the ball came flying back out into the fairway, courtesy of a conifer.
"When I saw it jump out, I said, 'Ah, ha!" Irwin related. "I'd hit it so bad that I don't think it could have reached out of bounds, even if it hadn't hit the tree."
After a cautious iron left him 88 yards from the pin, Irwin sent a wedge flying straight at the stick - but far too firmly struck. "It was long gone," Irwin remembered.
That is, until the ball landed a yard in front of the flag, slammed into the pin and stopped eight feet away - setting up Irwin for one of his three birdies.
While Irwin played the par-5 eighth in approved fashion, his nearest pursuers at that moment - Pate and Tom Purtzer, the twosome ahead - gambled on taking the nefarious 50 year shortcut around the Hinkle Sprue into the middle of the 17th fairway. Both regretted it.
Purtzer's drive ended in deep jungle. "Back off, folks," said the second-round leader. "This could go anywhere."
It went about 10 feet. When Purtzer finished hacking, he had taken double-bogey 7 and was on his way to 76.
Pate, after his scofflaw drive found the rough, needed furious scrambling - over tree, out of traps - to save a one-putt par. Unnerved, it appeared, by his bad judgment, Pate hit a wild-right drive at the ninth and took double bogey.
"I seem plagued by second-place finishes," lamented Pate.
The only man aside from Irwin who could have finished higher than second was Weiskopf. But Irwin, the lone survivor of Winged Foot in 1974 when his winning score was seven over par, made it a habit to one-up Weiskopf all week.
At the eighth, Weiskpof birdied from 10 feet - sidehill style. But Irwin matched him seconds later. At the par-3 12th, the only time in the last dozen holes that Irwin could tee off with an iron, Weiskopf sank a 30-foot birdie putt from the frog hair. Irwin answered instantly with his final bird from six feet.
The quintessentail Irwin is his mark of cashing checks in 86 consecutive tournments without missing a cut - the third longest streak in PGA history. In 1978, he won $191.666 without ever winning a tournament, a perverse Irvin PGA record.
When he saved par from a fairway bunker at the 1oth and from a brutal lie in a trap at the 15th, it was a trap at the 15th, it was typical Irwin.
"I had nothing to prove to the world," said Irwin, "but I have proved something to myself. It's far tougher to win an Open the second time because we all know that only 13 other players have done it twice - it's called a hallmark of greatness. I won't make that judgment.
"All I know is that to have my name on that trophy twice . . . with Nicklaus and Hogan and Capser . . . to other people, it might mean nothing. But to me that's really something. Its's the thing I've wanted most." CAPTION: Picture 1, Hale Irwin hugs his caddy, Joe Foy, after winning the U.S. Open for the second time in his golfing career. UPI; Picture 2, Toim Purtzer, playing the eighth-hole shortcut, finds rough near 17th fairway. UPI