Murota extends Sr. PGA lead, with 65-year-old Irwin among chasers

Hale Irwin watched his tee shot on the par-3 8th hole at Valhalla. Irwin, who has won the Senior PGA Championship four times, said a fifth title "would be absolutely fantastic."
Hale Irwin watched his tee shot on the par-3 8th hole at Valhalla. Irwin, who has won the Senior PGA Championship four times, said a fifth title "would be absolutely fantastic."

LOUISVILLE — When Hale Irwin won the Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2004, he was 58, considered close to the age of demarcation for being a major player in senior golf majors.

Seven years later, however, Irwin is, remarkably, still a contender.

A week before his 66th birthday, Irwin is tied for second midway through the 72nd Senior PGA after trudging 28 soggy holes at Valhalla on Friday.

Irwin first had to finish 10 holes left over from Thursday's weather-delayed first round, and he carded a 3-under 69.

After a brief break, he played his second round and shot a 4-under 68 for a 7-under total.

Kiyoshi Murota, a golf teacher from Japan, is still the surprising leader.

After firing a first-round 66 on Thursday, Murota said it was a fluke. But he followed up with a 67 on Friday to lead at 11 under.

Even though most people have never heard of Murota, Irwin cautioned against underestimating him.

"You don't have to know the guy when you look at the scoreboard," he said. "You see the scores he's shooting ... that's pretty impressive."

Irwin is tied for second with Nick Price (67-70). Loren Roberts and Olin Browne are tied for fourth at 6-under.

Kentuckian Kenny Perry is well off the pace after an up-and-down 69-75 Friday.

Irwin, the most successful senior golfer in history, has won 45 titles in 15 years, including four Senior PGAs.

What would it mean to him if he could cop a fifth?

"Oh, it would be absolutely wonderful, forgetting the age," he said. "To win this championship again would be absolutely fantastic.

"If I can give myself a chance the last nine holes (on Sunday), that's all I can do. And right now I'm playing myself into position to have a good weekend."

As Irwin spoke, he kept glancing at his 10-year-old grandson Dylan, who was in the interview room with his dad Tim. They drove in from St. Louis to watch their favorite professional athlete, senior or otherwise.

When Price, 54, was asked to comment on Irwin's age-defying play, he mistakenly thought Irwin was 63, not almost 66.

"Wow," Price said. "I just hope I'm still playing at that age, honestly.

"The man is perennial — he just keeps coming out.

"I've got nothing but admiration for him. If he can play like that at 65, it gives us all a lot of hope."

With Valhalla playing especially long because of the soppy fairways and thick, wet rough, Irwin has had to rely on his short game to keep him in the hunt.

"I've pulled some pars out of some pretty tough spots," he said.

Price, who won three majors in the 1990s (two PGAs and a British Open), is looking for his first senior major.

It took him a while to get heated up when he teed off Friday morning at 7:30.

"I was as cold as I've been on a golf course this year," he said. "Us old guys, we don't like cold weather. We need WD-40 in our drinks to get us going in the morning."

Price warmed up to the task, however, and he was steady from start to finish.

His most noteworthy accomplishment so far? He has twice birdied the long, difficult par-4 sixth hole, which has a 90-degree turn.

In the first round he hit a hybrid off the tee, a three-iron second shot and rolled in a 30-foot putt. In the second round he hit a pair of hybrids and sank a 12-foot putt.

"I'm very proud of those two birdies because that hole is a beast," he said.

Browne is in contention thanks to accuracy off the tee. He's hit 26 of 28 fairways, so he hasn't had to deal with the punishing rough.

Fatigue figures to be a factor among the seniors, especially at Valhalla.

"The hills out here are pretty significant, and the ground is soaking wet," Browne said. "So we're doing a lot of weaving and moving around to avoid the really wet spots."

Hot, humid conditions forecast for Sunday could pose a different challenge.

Because of the mucky conditions, players have been allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways, and they expect that to continue through the weekend.

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