Irwin (72) Manages to Shoot His Age for Third Time June 29, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By David Shedloski

Two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Hale Irwin shot his age during first-round play at the 38th U.S. Senior Open.(USGA/Chris Keane)

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After leaving a 10-foot par putt a few inches short on the 18th green to shoot 72 in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship, Hale Irwin made his way to the scoring room, where he crossed paths with one of the co-leaders, Paul Goydos.

“How’d you do?” Goydos asked.

“Shot my age,” Irwin replied.

“What are you, 81?” Goydos teased.

Irwin, a two-time champion, not only matched his age Thursday at Salem Country Club, but the oldest player in the field did it for the third time in his distinguished career, adding to the even-par 70 he shot in 2015 at Del Paso Country Club and the impressive third-round 66 in the 2011 championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. He tied for fourth that year, the last of his eight top-5 finishes.

In the history of the championship, it is believed that Jerry Barber is the only other player who has shot his age or better. And he did it three times. At age 76. In the 1992 championship at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., Barber opened with rounds of 74, 75 and 76. “I'll tell you truthfully, I don't pay any attention to it," Barber, who died in 1994, said at the time.

Two years ago, at age 65, Tom Watson came close with an opening 66 at Del Paso.

Unlike Barber, Irwin knew exactly where he stood and he cared. “That’s the only goal anymore is, can I do it?” he said after his 75th round in this championship.

Oddly, Irwin, who is making his seventh start this year after stepping into semi-retirement in 2015, wasn’t that impressed with his round. His ball-striking belied his score, but he somehow kept big numbers off his card, making two birdies against four bogeys.

“I putted OK. I managed my short game OK. But I really didn’t hit the ball well at all,” said Irwin, who won three U.S. Open titles in his Hall of Fame career. “Very short off the tee. I hit all the fairways, which is the good part. Bad part is I missed a lot of the greens, so I wasn’t really putting for that many birdies. But a lot of it’s management; I still know how to do that.”

As for expectations going forward, Irwin, winner of a record 45 PGA Tour Champions titles, has few.

“I know I can hit the ball better. Whether I play better is another thing,” he said. “That’s always the case. Sometimes you play lousy and score great. Sometimes you score poorly and play great. You just don’t know. But from my perspective, I’m just trying to kind of put one foot in front of the other.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

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