The Grand Slam men and those who missed

By Ryan LavnerAugust 7, 2017, 8:00 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Three majors down, one to go, and Jordan Spieth is now on the verge of joining the most exclusive club in golf.

Of the 13 men who have been in this position before Spieth, only five have gone on to complete the career Grand Slam: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

What does that group have in common? They all required no more than three attempts to capture the final leg, which suggests that, for everybody else, there were (and are) physical and psychological hurdles to clear. The longer the drought, the greater the pressure, and none of those legends dealt with what Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson now face – social media, increasingly brazen fans and a 900-person press corps asking the same question: So, is THIS the year?

Sure, there is a sense of inevitability to this quest, because no recent player has taken an eraser to the record books as often as Spieth. But some of the game’s greats surely felt similarly, only to go their entire careers without that final piece.

Spieth’s first shot at immortality, and his only chance at becoming the youngest to win all four majors, begins this week at Quail Hollow. Here’s what he can learn from his predecessors:

WHAT PRESSURE?

When Woods arrived at St. Andrews in July 2000, the Grand Slam buzz had built for only a few weeks. After all, a month earlier, he had demoralized his competition at the U.S. Open, winning by a record 15 shots. That type of form doesn’t disappear over the Atlantic, so another major romp just 36 days later seemed inevitable.

Sure enough, Woods turned the Home of Golf into his personal playground, storming to an eight-shot victory, the largest in 87 years at The Open.

Not only was Woods, at 24, the youngest to win the career Grand Slam, but he was the fastest, too – needing only 93 starts, compared with Nicklaus’ 125.

“They’ve been the elite players to ever play the game,” Woods said that day. “And to be in the same breath as those guys, it makes it very special.”

Besides Woods, the only other players to complete the career Grand Slam in their first attempts were Gene Sarazen (age 33) and Ben Hogan (40).

Sarazen won the third leg at the 1933 PGA, but he skipped the inaugural Masters (then known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament) the following spring because he had previously committed to an exhibition in South America. When he finally debuted in 1935, Sarazen made an albatross on the par-5 15th – the shot heard ’round the world – and eventually won in a 36-hole playoff the next day. Hogan, meanwhile, earned his British Open title in 1953 – the only time he played the event.

Nicklaus and Player needed only three attempts to finish the Slam, though each posted a top-10 in their first try, including Nicklaus’ runner-up finish in the 1964 Open.

After Nicklaus broke through in 1966 at Muirfield, he was so overcome with emotion that he could barely speak during the trophy presentation. “Finally, I asked the people to excuse me and let me just stand there and enjoy myself for a moment,” he wrote in his autobiography. “It’s a moment I still enjoy recalling as much as any in my career.”



NEARLY MEN

Not everyone experienced that euphoria, however.

For those who believe it’s simply a matter of when, not if, 20-somethings Spieth and McIlroy claim the final piece of the Slam puzzle, consider the careers of Arnold PalmerTom WatsonSam SneadByron NelsonLee Trevino and Raymond Floyd.

All fell one major shy.

No one came closer in his first attempt at the modern Grand Slam than Snead, who tied for second at the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah. That followed excruciating near-misses in 1939, when he made triple bogey on the final hole, and in 1947, when his opponent, Lew Worsham, interrupted play on the 18th green and asked for a ruling to determine who was away. An official ruled that Snead was indeed further from the hole, by about a half inch. “But I was so mad then,” Snead recalled, “that I couldn’t see straight.” He missed the putt and lost, his second of four runners-up in the event. Said Snead, “That’s the only regret I have, ever, is not winning the U.S. Open.”

Palmer played the PGA 34 times after winning the third leg and finished runner-up three times; Watson went 0-for-24. One Masters title away, Trevino failed to win in any of his 16 attempts at Augusta. Floyd didn’t even finish in the top 10 in nine tries at The Open.

Here is how those notables fared in their first attempts:

• Palmer: T-5, 1961 PGA

• Trevino: T-10, 1975 Masters

• Watson: T-9, 1982 PGA

• Floyd: T-16, 1986 Open

Lamented Palmer, in a 2014 interview: “I don’t think I’ll ever totally get over the fact that I didn’t win the PGA Championship.”

RECENT HISTORY

For Mickelson, the Grand Slam seemed like a pipe dream midway through his career.

A U.S. Open title appeared certain – because, really, how many times could the guy finish second? – but Mickelson had shown no signs of mastering links golf. That all changed in 2013, when he put together one of the best rounds of his life to steal The Open at Muirfield. Suddenly, at age 43, all that remained between him and the Slam was that elusive U.S. Open, which was returning in 2014 to Pinehurst, where all of his major heartbreak began 15 years earlier.

The storybook ending didn’t materialize and Mickelson tied for 28th, but that week didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. “I believe in the next five years I’m going to have three or four really good chances, and I do believe I will get it,” he said then. Except Lefty tied for 64th in 2015, missed the cut in ’16 and didn’t even show up at Erin Hills in June, choosing instead to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. His window might be closed; now 47, Mickelson would be the oldest U.S. Open winner in history.

McIlroy is 28, and in the prime of his career, but he too has scar tissue at the major he covets most. In 2011, he held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Masters but imploded with a Sunday 80, his various embarrassments now replayed each spring.

Augusta remains an ideal fit for his booming draws and towering iron shots, but every year since his collapse (and particularly since he won the 2014 Open to move to the brink of history) has created more pressure, more expectation, more doubt. It’s a vicious cycle: He admitted that he wouldn’t be “fulfilled” without a green jacket, but that burden affects his play each spring. Earlier this year he told Golf Digest: “I am – ask anyone who knows me – a complete prick in the week leading up to Augusta. But they understand and know that. It’s a stressful situation.”

In 2015, in his first attempt to complete the Slam, McIlroy finished a career-best fourth but never factored – through two rounds he trailed Spieth by 12 shots. Though he has added top-10s the past two years (and will head into 2018 with four in a row), he often has lacked the distance control and course management necessary to succeed. By Sunday night, he appears relieved that the Grand Slam talk is suspended for another nine months. “It’s another year and another missed opportunity,” he said in April, “but I’ll move on.”

Spieth is taking the long view, too, if only to quiet the noise heading into the final major of the year. Already this PGA feels similar to what he encountered two years ago at St. Andrews, where he was vying to join Hogan (1953) as the only players in the modern era to win the first three majors of the year. Unfazed by the enormity of the moment, Spieth surged into a share of the lead with two holes to play, only to fall one shot short of the playoff, a result that devastated his caddie, Michael Greller, who knew just how rare the feat was.

That experience should serve them well this week at Quail Hollow, because this opportunity is even more historic – it’s Spieth’s one and only chance to become the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam.

“I felt so free [at St. Andrews],” he said. “There wasn’t a care in the world. And that’s how I feel right now. I feel like I’m free-rolling.” 

Indeed, the way Spieth views it, this is his first of probably 30 tries to achieve the feat.

“If it’s this year and it happens, that’s great – that’s another lifelong goal that we’ve achieved,” he said. “But I believe that I’ll do it someday, so if it happens next week, then fantastic, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not going to be a big-time bummer whatsoever, because I know I have plenty of opportunities.”

One a year, in fact … for however long it takes. 

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.