Hale Irwin's greatest rival on the Senior tour isn't Gil Morgan, it's history. Last fall Irwin matched Peter Thomson's Senior record of nine victories in a year while earning $2,343,364, die most ever on any tour. Two weeks ago Irwin moved past Greg Norman to become golf's alltime leading money winner. Last week at die Ameritech Senior Open, he coasted to his fourth victory of the year, running his world-leading '98 total to $1,735,250 going into this week's U.S. Senior Open. Now Irwin is chasing another record: Byron Nelson's 19 consecutive top five finishes, set in 1945, the year Nelson won 11 tournaments in a row. Even if he doesn't catch Nelson, Irwin's ongoing streak of top fives on the Senior tour is among the signal achievements of his singular career.
Irwin's triumph at die Ameritech was his 14th straight top five finish, a streak that began at the '97 Senior Tour Championship, where he came in second behind Morgan. Don January holds the Senior record with 15 straight top fives in 1982-83, a mark Irwin hopes to match this week at Riviera. The chart below shows the 10 Senior seasons that had the highest rates of top five finishes. We'll call the stat Top Five Percentage, since Hale-ing Frequency would send SI's career Irwin Pun Quotient to illegal levels.
Only Irwin makes the leader board three times. Several great players are absent, most notably Jack Nicklaus. To qualify for the ranking a player must have entered at least 15 Senior events in a full season, and Nicklaus has never played more than seven. Arnold Palmer often played enough to qualify, but his best TFP was 29.4 in 1987 Jim Colbert and Dave Stockton each led the Senior money list twice, but neither achieved a top five percentage of 50. Thomson's TFP during his nine-win season of 1985 was only 63.6.
Does TFP prove that Irwin is the best Senior ever? For the moment, yes, but he is bound to slow down. Lee Trevino, the alltime Senior leader with 27 victories, had a career TFP of 52.7 three years ago; it has since dipped to 385. Irwin can't maintain his pace forever either, but his perfect 100 so far this year is one of golf's great numbers.
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