Where does Spieth's season rank?

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Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize greatness. Oh, we know when someone has done something extraodinary, but it is difficult at times to fully comprehend when an athlete has accomplished something that borders on the best ever. Case in point, Tiger Woods’ “Tiger Slam” in 2000-2001. Much of the focus was on the fact that Woods did not produce a true Grand Slam – winning all four majors in a calendar year. But his achievement was unprecedented - no one had previously held all four professional major trophies at the same time. My sense is that 50 years from now fans will look back on this achievement in awe. 

Similarly, Jordan Spieth’s 2015 campaign, in which he won two majors and ascended to the No. 1 world ranking, may ultimately be viewed with similar accolades ... or will it? 

Spieth is the 15th man to win two or more majors in a season in the Masters era, which encompasses 1934 to the present. If you subtract 1940-45, when one or more of the majors was not held because of World War II, you come up with 76 years of majors as we know them. We’ll include 1941 – bumping the number of years to 77 - even though the Open Championship wasn’t played, because Craig Wood still managed to win two majors – the Masters and U.S. Open. Those 15 players have produced 26 multiple-major seasons, which over 77 years is a rate of 34 percent, so a multiple-major season isn’t as rare as might be expected.

Only two men have won three professional majors in a season – Ben Hogan in 1953, when he took the Masters and U.S. and British Opens, and Woods in 2000, when he won the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA.

But what about two-major seasons? Certainly there have been some great ones: Nicklaus in 1972, when his Grand Slam dream died agonizingly in the Open Championship at Muirfield when his closing 66 was blunted by Lee Trevino’s chip-in for par at the 71st hole and a one-shot victory margin. Nicklaus again in 1975, when he came up one shot short of the Tom Watson-Jack Newton playoff that resulted in the first of Watson’s five Open Championship wins. Palmer in 1962, when he rebounded from a heartbreaking defeat by Nicklaus in a “hometown” U.S. Open at Oakmont to win the Open Championship for his second major of the year.

Palmer’s 1960 season deserves special mention. After winning his second Masters, he cemented his legend with his spectacular final-round comeback from seven shots back to start the day in the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. His closing 65 vaulted him over Nicklaus (while still amateur, he’d finish with a final round of 71, two shots back, alone in second place) and Hogan (final round of 73, T-9, four shots adrift), among others. With the charge of Palmer, the introduction of Nicklaus and the swan song of Hogan, this was one of golf’s most historic rounds. The modern application of the term Grand Slam was born when newspaperman and Palmer crony Bob Drum used it to define Palmer’s intent to add victories at the Open Championship at St. Andrews (he would finish second by a stroke to Kel Nagle) and the PGA Championship (he would finish T-7, five shots behind Jay Hebert).

What about Spieth? If we look at how he did in the other two majors, his performance is equaled only by Woods in 2005. That year Woods was runner-up to Michael Campbell by two shots in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and T-4 in the PGA, two shots behind winner Phil Mickelson. Spieth finished T-4 in this year’s Open Championship at St. Andrews, one stroke out of the three-man playoff won by Zach Johnson, and second by three shots to Jason Day in the PGA at Whistling Straits. Obviously which of these seasons is better, at least judged by the majors, is open to debate.

Adding in performance in non-majors, Woods won an additional four times (two of which were World Golf Championship events), while Spieth has won two additional tournaments and still has the FedEx Cup Playoffs before him. And wouldn’t it be another interesting conversation to compare the weight of two wins in the playoffs to two WGC wins?

While it’s debatable exactly where Spieth’s 2015 campaign fits into the pages of history, what cannot be denied is how much fun it was to have witnessed it and to compare it to the all-time greats. 


Players who won two or more majors in a season in the Masters era (1934-present)

2000-2015

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
2015 Jordan Spieth 1 1 T-4 2
2014 Rory McIlroy T-8 T-23 1 1
2008 Padraig Harrington T-5 T-36 1 1
2006 Tiger Woods T-3 MC 1 1
2005 Tiger Woods 1 2 1 T-4
2002 Tiger Woods 1 1 T-28 2
2000 Tiger Woods 5 1 1 1

1990-1999

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1998 Mark O'Meara       1 T-32 1 T-4
1994 Nick Price T-35 MC 1 1
1990 Nick Faldo 1 T-3 1 T-19

1980-1989

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1982 Tom Watson        T-5 1 1 T-9
1980 Jack Nicklaus T-33 1 T-4 1

1970-1979

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1977 Tom Watson        1 T-7 1 T-6
1975 Jack Nicklaus 1 T-7 T-3 1
1974 Gary Player 1 T-8 1 7
1972 Jack Nicklaus 1 1 2 T-13
1971 Lee Trevino DNP 1 1 T-13

1960-1969

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1966 Jack Nicklaus       1 3 1 T-22
1963 Jack Nicklaus 1 MC 3 1
1962 Arnold Palmer 1 2 1 T-17
1960 Arnold Palmer 1 1 2 T-7

1950-1959

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1953 Ben Hogan         1 1 1 DNP
1951 Ben Hogan 1 1 DNP DNP

1940-1949

Year Player Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA
1949 Sam Snead       1 T-2 DNP 1
1948 Ben Hogan T-6 1 DNP 1
1941 Craig Wood 1 1 NT R-32