2005: James fends off Irwin’s challenge

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Naples, Fla.

Mark James came through when it counted at the Champions Tour’s Ace Group Classic.

James, a winner at the 2004 Ford Senior Players Championship, picked up his second over-50 victory with a two-shot triumph over Tom Wargo and Hale Irwin at the Club at TwinEagles.

James finished at 13-under 203 to collect $240,000.

Holding a one-shot lead with one hole to play, James birdied the 437-yard, par-4 18th, while Irwin made par.

“With Hale breathing down your neck, that’s not a nice feeling,” James said. “He just only had to look at the ball today and it dived into the cup. It was quite incredible.”

For the week, James played No. 18 – the hardest hole for the tournament – in 3 under (three birdies). Irwin parred it all three days and Wargo had one birdie and two pars. As for the second-hardest hole for the week – the 399-yard, par-4 fourth – James played it in 2 under, while Irwin and Wargo played it in even par.

It was James’ second victory in 23 Champions Tour starts since joining the tour last year.

“It’s very satisfying to win again,” said James, who finished T-19 at the MasterCard and T-54 at Turtle Bay earlier this year. “You feel, well, you might just have gotten lucky once, but to get lucky twice is stretching the imagination a bit. So yeah, it feels good.”

At the final hole, Irwin’s approach shot bounced off the back of the green.

“I knew I had to get back to the hole,” Irwin said, referring to the back right pin position. “I just didn’t know how hard the green was.”

“When his went over, I had to think, well, that he’d probably not make 3 even though he’s a frighteningly dangerous player,” James said.

James avoided any added drama by sinking a 23-footer for birdie.

“I didn’t want to have an 18-incher,” he said. “I was so pleased to see that go in.”

Wargo, 62, eagled No. 17 and birdied No. 18 for his best finish in almost two years.

– Staff and wire reports

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