Over the past few years, an influx of younger players -- 'younger,' of course, being a relative term -- have made the jump from the PGA TOUR to the Champions Tour, raising the bar for the players who were already there.
And at age 62, Irwin admits he's looking for more balance in his personal life, and that might have taken the edge off his game.
'I love playing, I love the competition, I really, really do enjoy that,' Irwin said Tuesday, during a break from practice for this week's U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits. 'But at the same time, there's a point in time where you just, at least temporarily, want to stop and smell the roses a little bit. I think that takes away just a little bit of that competitive edge.'
Irwin won 44 times on the Champions Tour between 1995 and 2005, making him by far the biggest winner in the tour's history. But after going winless in 2006 and finishing outside of the top 10 in prize money, Irwin rededicated himself to fitness over the winter.
Perhaps most important, there aren't many trees to block the breeze and the course is perched on the often-windy bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan -- giving Whistling Straits its signature 'whistle.'
'This is such a unique setting,' Roberts said. 'We don't have anything like it anywhere else in the United States, at least (not that) we play on the Senior Tour.'
Wind was a major topic of discussion going into the PGA Championship three years ago, the first major tournament held at the course. The breezes blew as advertised in practice rounds but mellowed once the tournament started, leading to unexpectedly easy playing conditions.
But that was in August, and the Whistling Straits winds generally blow harder in July.
'You're going to have to strike the ball solidly,' Roberts said. 'Obviously, a little different time of year versus August, so I think we may have a little bit more wind out here. And the wind is what makes this golf course just really hard.'
Roberts said players have to be ready for anything.
'You don't know what you're going to get every day,' Roberts said. 'I'm just going to go out and try to hit a bunch of solid shots. And what happens today might not happen on Thursday.'
Jeff Coston, a teaching pro from Blaine, Wash., who made the cut at the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits, remembers having a tough time getting to the green on the 454-yard, par-4 eighth hole three years ago.
'I hit a driver and a 3-wood as good as I could and I couldn't get home because the wind was blowing so hard,' Coston said. 'So it's a serious course, and there's no let up with things like that.'
In addition to holding up or redirecting shots, Coston said high winds can dry out the course and make putting more difficult.
'Usually the wind narrows up the fairways, dries out the greens -- and puts hair on your chest,' Coston said.
Scott Hoch withdrew from the U.S. Senior Open on Monday because of a hand injury, adding his name to a growing list of recognizable faces who won't be at Whistling Straits this week. Earlier, two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Gary Player withdrew from the tournament because of back and hamstring injuries, along with 2002 Senior Open champion Don Pooley (unspecified injury), Raymond Floyd (back), Dana Quigley (unspecified) and Jim Colbert (knee). Their spots will be filled by alternates -- including former Major League Baseball pitcher Rick Rhoden, who will play in his third Senior Open.