Originally created 01/23/04

Golf's ironman looks to defend MasterCard title



KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii -- Dana Quigley is having too much fun to take a break from golf - even in the offseason.

"I'm through the first 18 by 10:30 and then you got the whole day in front of you. What else would you do?" said Quigley, who tries to play at least 36 holes seven days a week.

The Champions Tour ironman is among the record 39 players set to begin play Friday in the 54-hole MasterCard Championship, the first of 30 officials events on the 50 and over tour.

Last year, Quigley birdied two of the last three holes to finish at 18-under 198 and defeat Larry Nelson by two strokes. It was the eighth tour win for Quigley.

"To spend a year as the defending champ of this tournament, it's been quite a thing," he said Thursday.

The 56-year-old player is making his record 233rd consecutive start for which he has been eligible and his 219th straight start overall. He was the only player to appear in all 31 events last year.

While Quigley had a golf-filled break. Hale Irwin was the exact opposite.

"I tried not only to give my golf game a rest, but also my back," Irwin said. "So I'm a little bit rusty, so I might hit all the peaks and valley in the early stages just trying to find my game. But I feel good. It'll get there."

What does he think about Quigley's two-round days?

"He's a sick man," Irwin said. "Dana loves the game, and I think that's absolutely terrific, but I don't even think about doing what he does."

Irwin, who has a record 38 tour victories, has had tremendous success in Hawaii. Three months ago, he won the Turtle Bay Championship for the fourth straight time and the fifth time overall.

Besides Irwin, the $1.6 million MasterCard also features five other members of the World Golf Hall of Fame - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

Palmer, 74, is playing in his 50th professional season. He made his debut in the 1954 Miami Open but didn't earn his first check until the 1955 Masters. He tied for 10th in the event and took home $696.

"It was money in those days and it was very important," Palmer said.

Today, that amount barely covers a night at the five-star Four Seasons resort, which is hosting the tournament.

Palmer said he will again play a limited schedule. Besides the MasterCard and next week's Champions Skins Game on Maui, Palmer said the next event will probably be the Masters.

The MasterCard is being played at the oceanside 7,097-yard Hualalai Golf Club, which features a backdrop of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Kea, two of the five volcanoes on the Big Island.

The Nicklaus-designed course was the tour's easiest last season, with a scoring average of 69.5.

After playing a practice round in calm conditions Thursday, Irwin said the wind will dictate the scoring.

"When you have a course like Hualalai, it's a nice course, but it's a resort course - not terribly difficult," he said. "When you throw virtually no wind out there, these guys will just chew the grass off. They'll be so many birdies flying, you won't believe it."

The tournament includes senior major champions in the last five years and tour winners in the last two seasons.