Publish date:

First In Fives Hale Irwin has more than a handful of top five finishes

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, the
most ever on any tour. Two weeks ago Irwin moved past Greg
Norman to become golf's alltime leading money winner. Last week
at the 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 the 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 38.5. Irwin can't
maintain his pace forever either, but his perfect 100 so far
this year is one of golf's great numbers.

--Rick Lipsey

COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS [Hale Irwin hitting shot]


Starts WINS 2ND 3RD TOP 5 TOP 5 PCT.

Hale Irwin, '98 13 4 5 1 13 100
Don January, '84 17 3 4 3 13 76.5
Miller Barber, '83 16 4 3 2 12 75.0
Lee Trevino, '90 28 7 8 1 21 75.0
Hale Irwin, '96 23 2 7 2 16 69.6
Chi Chi Rodriguez, '87 27 7 4 3 18 66.7
Hale Irwin, '97 23 9 3 1 15 65.2
Peter Thomson, '85 22 9 2 0 14 63.6
Bob Charles, '89 27 5 3 0 17 63.0
Bob Charles, '88 28 5 5 1 17 60.7


Before finishing second at Royal Birkdale, former NCAA champion
Brian Watts had struggled on the PGA Tour. Here are the Tour
earnings of the last 10 NCAA winners going into the British
Open, in which Watts won $329,000.


Brian Watts, '87 $159,387
E.J. Pfister, '88 12,616
P. Mickelson, '89,'90,'92 5,991,408
Warren Schutte, '91 29,753
Todd Demsey, '93 44,286
Justin Leonard, '94 4,662,045
Chip Spratlin, '95 0
Tiger Woods, '96 4,009,719
Charles Warren, '97 Amateur
James McLean, '98 Amateur


Since 1992, when Nick Faldo won his third British Open, no
player from the United Kingdom has taken home the claret jug.
Here are the top U.K. finishers at Royal Birkdale.


4. Justin Rose (Eng.) 282
4. Raymond Russell (Scot.) 282
14. Gordon Brand Jr. (Scot.) 288
15. Peter Baker (Eng.) 289
19. Mark James (Eng.) 290
19. Sandy Lyle (Scot.) 290
24. Sam Torrance (Scot.) 291



Official score of Michael Jordan in the pro-am of last week's
Ameritech Senior Open. Observers counting his shots, however, had
Jordan for an 87.