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Best Bids for the Grand Slam in the Modern Era

April 1st, 2008 · 2 Comments

Part 2 – Grand Slam – 2008 Masters Coverage

The Masters is sort of like a qualifying tournament for the Grand Slam. The winner emerges as the only player eligible for the Slam that year. And, unless the winner is an elite player like Tiger Woods, or possibly Phil Mickelson, then the Masters may also put an end to Slam talk till next spring. Sorry, but the Zach Johnson’s of the world just are just not taken seriously as candidates for the Slam.

The best bids for the Grand Slam are forward oriented. As an example, in baseball a pitcher who gives up one hit in the second inning was nowhere close to pitching a no hitter. His bid ended in the second. One who carries a no-hitter to the eighth inning was darned close.

Similarly, it is illogical to conclude that Tiger Woods was close to winning the Grand Slam in 2000. He did win the last three majors, but his Slam bid ended at the Masters where he finished in fifth, six back of Vijay Singh.

Besides, any attempt to look back in building a case for closeness to the Slam ignores a crucial fact: the majors won after the Masters were not played with the pressure of a Grand Slam hanging on every shot. As Nicklaus said in My Story, “Unrealistic though it may be, the Grand Slam has always been in the back of my mind every season at least through the end of the first major championship.”

Arnold Palmer’s Best Bids for the Grand Slam
Arnold Palmer won the 1960 Masters and U.S. Open. His bid for the third leg at the British Open at St. Andrews failed when his final round of 68 left him a stroke shy of a playoff. In 1962, Palmer followed his Masters victory with a playoff loss to Nicklaus in the U.S. Open.

Nicklaus’ Greatest Bids for the Grand Slam
Nicklaus won the first leg of the Grand Slam at the 1971 PGA when it was the first major (the only time this has happened in the Modern Era). At the Masters, he shot a 72 in the fourth round to slip into a tie with Johnny Miller for second, two shots back of journeyman pro Charles Coody.

Nicklaus won the first two legs in 1972 after leading or sharing the lead in all eight rounds of the Masters and the U.S. Open. He was poised to win the British Open at Muirfield when Lee Trevino chipped in on the seventy-first hole to win by a shot, ending Nicklaus best bid.

Nicklaus opened with a victory at the 1975 Masters in a shootout with Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. At the U.S. Open, his patchwork swing caught up with him and he bogeyed the last three holes to finish two shots back.

Woods’ Best Bids for the Grand Slam
Woods opened the 2002 major’s season with a three shot win at the Masters, then beat Mickelson by the same margin at the U.S. Open at Bethpage. The British Open was held at Muirfield where Nicklaus’ Slam dreams died 30 years earlier. Woods opened with rounds of 70-68 to trail a quintet of players by two shots. During the third round Woods encountered wind, rain, and cold, and he ballooned to an 81. He closed with a 65 to finish 28t.

Woods won the 2005 Masters in a playoff with Chris DiMarco. At the U.S. Open at Pinehurst third round leader Goosen skied to an 81, giving Woods a shot at the second leg. In the end, two late bogeys and Michael Campbell’s refusal to crack ended his hopes for the Grand Slam.

Phil Mickelson’s Bid Dies at Winged Foot
Phil Mickelson won the 2006 Masters (after winning the 2005 PGA), positioning himself for a Grand Slam Plus. He was on the verge of capturing the second leg when he self-destructed on the 72nd hole, handing the championship to Geoff Ogilvy.

Now you know how far the quest for the Slam took four of golf’s best players in the Modern Era. Palmer and Nicklaus barely missed winning the first three legs while Woods was in position to capture the third leg after 36 holes when disaster struck. As for Mickelson, he was likely one good swing with his driver away from winning the first two legs, and from winning three straight majors.

The experts like Woods’ Grand Slam chances more than ever before, and why not considering the way he’s playing and the consistency he’s showed in the majors over the last three years. Still, as history shows, he’ll have done something extraordinary if he can get to the final holes of the British Open with a chance to win the third leg.

Tags: 2008 Masters Coverage

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BD // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:03 am

    I guess technically one could include Ben Hogan in this group since he won the first 3 majors in 1953, only missing the last due to logistics.

  • 2 Phil // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:35 am

    BD – In a previous post I used 1958 as a cutoff point for the Modern Era. I should have repeated that point in this post. ’58 was the first year when all four majors were played at stroke play, and jet travel made it more feasible for players to compete in all four. Plus the scheduling problem was not like in 1953 when the BO started the day after the PGA.

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