Jordan Spieth unsurprised by lukewarm response to Slam hopes

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The attention starts building weeks, if not months, ahead of the one major keeping Rory McIlroy from the career Grand Slam, the most elite club in golf. It’s like that every year, and it doesn’t make it any easier when he gets to the Masters.

Jordan Spieth should be able to appreciate the feeling. Except that he really doesn’t.

Now that McIlroy missed again at the Masters — his 10th straight attempt to win the one major that has eluded him — Spieth is next up with an opportunity to become only the sixth player in history to win all four majors.

It feels like an afterthought going into the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday. But Spieth isn’t surprised the attention is not that high, certainly not at the level McIlroy has faced the past decade each time he heads to Augusta National.

One reason is his game, which has not been great. Spieth has gone just over two years since he last won a tournament and has come close only a few times since then. He comes into the PGA Championship having missed the cut in four of his past five tournaments that had a 36-hole cut.

“He’s got more accolades,” Spieth said about the Grand Slam hype between him and McIlroy. “He’s been a better player over his career. Maybe that creates a little noise. He’s been a bit more vocal about it himself, so maybe that makes a little bit more difference.”

Spieth said he “hit the reset button” before The CJ Cup Byron Nelson but missed the cut then finished in a tie for 29th at the Wells Fargo Championship that ended Sunday — and was won by McIlroy.

The big storylines entering the PGA Championship: Scottie Scheffler is trying to extend his dominance with a second straight major; Brooks Koepka is the defending champion and coming off a LIV Golf win in Singapore; Jon Rahm turned in a dud at the Masters, and curious eyes will want to see whether that was an aberration.

Oh yes, and Spieth goes for the career Grand Slam, a feat achieved only by Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

Another reason for the hype disparity is the Masters, the only major held on the same course every year.

Sarazen is the only player with the career Grand Slam who completed it at Augusta National. But that was in 1935, long before the Masters was considered a major and 25 years before Arnold Palmer first brought a professional Slam into the golf conversation.

McIlroy threw away a chance in 2011, when he lost a 4-shot lead in the final round at the Masters. He played in the final group with Patrick Reed in 2018 and didn’t get it done. Reminders are everywhere when he returns.

That isn’t the case for Spieth. He goes to Quail Hollow one year, Bellerive the next. He has had seven cracks at getting the missing piece of the Grand Slam on seven courses.

“For me, it’s like the PGA Championship feels decently similar to a number of tournaments we play,” Spieth said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s played on some of the biggest, best golf courses. But the identity is not the same as the other three. In my mind, you don’t need to find a different way to win, versus guys who don’t have some of the other ones.

“We play a few tournaments a year that could be PGA Championships if you change the branding and the grandstands.”

Only two other players lacked only the PGA Championship for the career slam: Palmer and Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus referenced them last month when speaking of McIlroy’s chances at Augusta.

“Is Tom Watson good enough to win the Grand Slam? Absolutely. Was Arnold Palmer good enough to win the Grand Slam? Absolutely,” Nicklaus said.

He felt the same way about McIlroy before adding, “but they have got to do it.”

“It’s like the PGA Championship feels decently similar to a number of tournaments we play. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s played on some of the biggest, best golf courses. But the identity is not the same as the other three.”

Jordan Spieth

Spieth is 30 and would seem to have time on his side — but not history. Sarazen, Hogan and Woods won the final leg in their first attempt. Woods did it in the most spectacular fashion, winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots and a month later The Open by 8. He was 24.

Player (1965 U.S. Open) and Nicklaus (1966 Open Championship) completed the Grand Slam on their third attempt after they had won the third leg.

Spieth said it doesn’t weigh on him, at least not lately.

“I remember thinking about it in ’17 because it was right after The Open and I was playing so well,” Spieth said. He tied for 28th at Quail Hollow.

He also said he gave the Grand Slam some thought in 2019 at Bethpage Black, when he was in the final group going into the weekend with Koepka. That wasn’t really a fair fight. Koepka set the 36-hole record for majors (128) and was a record 7 shots ahead of Spieth.

“But I don’t feel like it will build up over time, not like people talk about Rory’s building up over time,” Spieth said.

More focus is on a nagging injury to his left wrist that first surfaced right before the PGA Championship last year at Oak Hill. Spieth is trying to manage it. He also is spending more time than he imagined on the phone as part of the PGA Tour Enterprises board trying to figure out the best way forward with the Saudis.

Justin Thomas has two PGA titles — what Spieth wouldn’t do for one — and is surprised his longtime friend doesn’t get much attention as he pursues the final leg.

“It should be the same amount of attention — you could say more because he’s younger than Rory,” Thomas said. “But that also could be a good thing. Going in under the radar is never bad.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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