As Hale Irwin walked to the 18th tee today at Medinah Country Club, a spectator looking at the scorer's placard saw that Irwin was 5 under for the tournament and only a shot off the lead.
"Wow, look at Hale," the man said to his friend. "He forgot how old he was."
Irwin, 54 and the dominant player on the Senior PGA Tour with five victories in his last nine starts, is more than holding his own in the 81st PGA Championship. He shot a 3-under 69 today that left him at 5-under 139 for the tournament, four shots behind second-round leader Jay Haas on a course where he won the last of his three U.S. Open championships in 1990.
"I really didn't know I was the oldest guy in the field," Irwin said. "I should have guessed because I was playing with the youngest guy in the field [19-year-old Sergio Garcia]. The PGA has a way of doing things like this."
Irwin has a way of winning -- 20 PGA Tour victories, including three majors; 24 senior tour victories, five in senior majors; with five Ryder Cup appearances. Irwin will attempt to become the oldest player ever to win a major. At 48, Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA at Pecan Valley in San Antonio.
"I don't want to sit up here and tell anyone that I expected to play like this," Irwin said. "In my heart, you hope to and want to, but it's not always the easiest thing to step into an environment to which you're not terribly accustomed.
"You just put a bag over everyone's head, including your own, so you can't look in the mirror and see gray hair and you can't see a kid with freckles."
It has been a tough week for Steve Elkington, who withdrew from the tournament Thursday morning when he learned his caddie, "Gypsy" Joe Grillo, had been taken to a local hospital complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath. Grillo was released from the hospital today; a severe asthma attack was diagnosed, and not a heart attack as had first been feared.
On Tuesday night, Elkington was changing to a new golf bag in the parking lot, and when Scott Kent and his 4 1/2-year-old son, Ryan, passed by, Elkington gave them the old model. There was only one problem. He hadn't removed everything -- and among the items left in the old bag were some medication and his wedding band.
The PGA of America asked television partner TNT to mention the story on its telecast today and provide a telephone number for anyone who knew about the bag. One of Kent's neighbors saw the show, went to Kent's office and told him to call the tournament office. Kent sent Elkington's belongings to Medinah, and Elkington got them back at the airport as he was heading out of town.
The PGA even brought father and son to the media tent today. Ryan Kent had no comment for both questions he was asked, including a tongue-in-cheek query from Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune.
"Ryan," he said, "I'd like to ask how you feel about players getting paid for the Ryder Cup?" . . .
Fred Funk, the former Maryland golf coach, came back to make the cut with a 3-under 69 today and was at even-par 144.