SOUTHPORT, England (AP) – Three down, one to go for Jordan Spieth.
Only it’s not always that simple.
Spieth only has to wait three weeks until he gets his first crack at the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship. He won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015, and he added the British Open with his furious finish at Royal Birkdale.
Of the five players who have won the career Grand Slam, no one has ever completed it at the PGA Championship.
Gene Sarazen got the final leg at the 1935 Masters before anyone knew what the professional Grand Slam was. Ben Hogan might be the most impressive of the quintet — he won the only British Open he played. Gary Player completed the slam in the 1965 U.S. Open, while Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods got it at the British Open.
“It’s a life goal of mine,” Spieth said.
His hope is that it doesn’t take a lifetime, and he only has to consider Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.
Palmer captured the third leg when he won the British Open in 1961. He played the PGA Championship 34 more times without winning. He was a runner-up three times, trailing by one shot going into the final round in 1964 (won by Bobby Nichols) and two shots going into the final round in 1968 (won by Julius Boros).
Watson got the third leg in the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He played 24 more times in the PGA Championship, two in a more ceremonial position as the Ryder Cup captain and had his best chance in 1993 at Inverness. He started the final round one shot behind Greg Norman but closed with a 72 and finished four shots behind.
His only runner-up finish was a lost opportunity that came back to haunt him. Watson led wire-to-wire at Oakmont in 1978 until closing with a 73 and losing in a playoff to John Mahaffey, who started the last day seven shots behind.
Spieth turns 24 on Thursday.
“He’s going to play in 30 more PGAs the rest of his life,” caddie Michael Greller said. “He’s just won a major. That’s what we talked about in ’15 when we won the Masters. There’s absolutely no pressure on him.”
Spieth already has one runner-up in the PGA Championship, two years ago at Whistling Straits, when he started two shots behind Jason Day and couldn’t catch up.
He is among three active players who are one major away from the career Grand Slam.
Phil Mickelson won his third at the British Open in 2013 at Muirfield, leaving him only the U.S. Open. Since then, Mickelson finished 15 shots out of the lead at Pinehurst No. 2, 18 shots out of the lead at Chambers Bay and he missed the cut at Oakmont. He didn’t play the U.S. Open this year.
Rory McIlroy won the third leg at the British Open in 2014, his second straight major. He has had three top 10s in the Masters, the major he lacks for the Grand Slam, though he has never seriously contended. McIlroy has finished six shots behind each of the last three years at Augusta National.
How will Spieth respond at Quail Hollow in North Carolina when the PGA Championship starts on Aug. 10? One consideration is how he viewed his four-shot lead at the Masters that he converted into a green jacket.
“A huge monkey off the back,” Spieth said a few weeks ago about getting his first major. “The longer you go without is making each one harder. Look at DJ (Dustin Johnson) before he won, or Sergio (Garcia). Recognizing I was so young, you don’t get opportunities like that.”
Xander Schauffele’s fortunes sure have changed in the last month.
The PGA Tour rookie from San Diego had missed six cuts in 11 events this year and had not cracked the top 20. And then he earned the final qualifying spot for the U.S. Open in a playoff, and golf has never been more fun.
He tied for fifth in the U.S. Open, and that was just the start of his remarkable run. Mostly because of his victory in the Greenbrier Classic, he has gone over $2.3 million for the season and is No. 27 in the FedEx Cup. He is coming off a tie for 20th in the British Open after closing with a 65 and gets a week off before going to the Bridgestone Invitational for his first World Golf Championship.
“I guess I’m supposed to believe it because we put a lot of time into this — so has everyone else — but yeah, it’s hard to believe,” Schauffele said.
That thrusts him into a crowd field of candidates for rookie of the year. Usually a winner has the advantage, except that Schauffele is among five rookies to have won. That includes Grayson Murray, who won the Barbasol Championship held opposite the British Open.
“When you’re playing well, it’s more fun,” Schauffele said. “I also find fun in the dirty when you’re not playing so great. But I’d rather be hitting where I am now than where I was four weeks ago.”
FIRST TO THREE
Jordan Spieth, Jack Nicklaus and Gene Sarazen are the only players to win three majors at age 23 or younger. Sarazen won his third when he was 21.
Sarazen played his first U.S. Open when he was 18. Spieth joined the PGA Tour when he was 19.
The Masters was still 14 years away from being created when Sarazen turned pro in 1920, and he didn’t go to the British Open until 1924. With only two majors played, Sarazen reached three titles in his seventh major.
Nicklaus won his third major on his eighth try, while Tiger Woods picked up his third title in 13 majors.
Spieth is right behind with three victories in 18 majors, followed by Rory McIlroy, who earned his third major in 23 attempts as a pro.
Henrik Stenson’s 63 in the final round at Royal Troon last year was 9.8 strokes better than the field average. Branden Grace’s 62 was 7.026 shots better than the average score in the third round at Royal Birkdale, while Li Haotong’s 63 in the final round was 7.13 shots lower than the field average. The nine players who have won at Royal Birkdale have combined for 37 majors in their careers. All were multiple major champions except for Ian Baker-Finch, whose victory in 1991 was his only major. Six players have gone over $1 million this year on the PGA Tour Championship. Four players have gone over $1 million on the LPGA Tour. The PGA Tour already had had 95 players go over $1 million this season. Players in their 20s have won the last eight tournaments on the PGA Tour.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Amy Yang is the only player to finish in the top 10 at all three LPGA majors this year. She tied for eighth in the ANA Inspiration and U.S. Women’s Open, and she tied for fourth in the KPGA Women’s PGA Championship.
“I don’t know why I can’t make it a little more boring sometimes.” — British Open champion Jordan Spieth.
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