19th hole: New major calendar shifts career Grand Slam chase for Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy


ST. LOUIS – In the old run of things, Jordan Spieth would have enjoyed the luxury of a year’s respite – and three majors in between – before again facing the peculiar pressure of trying to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the PGA Championship.

In the new dispensation – the shifting of the PGA from August to May – he has only nine months and the Masters to navigate before his mission begins anew at Bethpage Black.

A journey shortened for Spieth is one lengthened for Phil Mickelson, who will have watched four majors – a British Open, two PGAs and a Masters – pass him by before he can reattempt his career Slam at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Only Rory McIlroy remains on the same schedule for his career quadrilateral at the Masters. The other majors can shuffle their positions on both the calendar and the pecking order. First place on either isn’t really up for debate.

“It’s really cool to be a part of that conversation, and I think you have to embrace it, you have to relish it, you have to just go at it and know that if you do win you’re going to join a very, very elite club,” McIlroy said at Bellerive, exhibiting the ease of a man who wasn’t under Slam scrutiny that week.

The club to which he refers is the most exclusive in the game. Just five members in the Masters era: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The difficulty of getting into that company is illustrated by the quality of those who got three quarters of the way there but never crossed the threshold: guys such as Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Floyd, Trevino, Watson.

Spieth was ‘more anxious’ last year

At Bellerive, Spieth suggested the pressure was lessened for his second crack at the slam.

“I think I was probably a little more anxious last year. I think, going in, there was a big focus on it, given it was right after winning the Open Championship, so it was fresh, I was in form and going to a place that, if I worked up the leaderboard, it would create a lot of noise,” he said.

In 2017 at Quail Hollow he finished T-28, 10 shots behind Justin Thomas. In St. Louis he managed some spirited spurts but was a sideshow Sunday.

0-for-2.

“This tournament will always be circled until I’m able to hopefully win it someday,” he said.

Spieth knows that while the burden of expectation may have felt lighter this year than last, it will henceforth only increase. Failure to win at Bethpage Black in May will kick the pressure gauge up a notch for TPC Harding Park in 2020.

It’s a process that repeats until the simmering pressure is finally released by victory, retirement or hitting a moving ball.

For now at least, Spieth gets to pass the yoke to McIlroy.

It’s Rory’s turn next at Augusta

The Northern Irishman is 0-for-4 at Augusta National since collecting the third leg of the career slam at the 2014 PGA Championship. He’s had twice as many chances to complete the slam as Spieth and has learned a little art of psychology along the way.

“Definitely having had a few goes at it, I think that less expectations is better. Trying to take pressure off yourself, trying to treat it like any normal week, just trying to win the golf tournament that week, sort of put it out of your head that what winning this golf tournament would mean in terms of your legacy and your place in the game,” McIlroy said.

Easier in theory than in practice, as McIlroy can attest. His stellar play at the Masters – he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any of his last four tilts – only boosts expectations next time around. He played sublime golf for three days this year, but a mediocre Sunday suggested his mind had indeed drifted to his legacy and place in the game.

McIlroy and Spieth are young men with time to cement that legacy. Thanks to the calendar realignment, Mickelson must wait and watch both of them bid for the slam before he gets his next shot on his 49th birthday, which coincides with the final round of the 2019 U.S. Open. Plenty of time for more questions about the missing hardware and what it would mean to him.

The cycle of failures and questionings is alien to the most recent inductee to the Grand Slam club. Woods completed matters with victories at the U.S and British Opens in 2000.

“I only had had to think about it for about a month,” he said last week. Gwk

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