Three players have come to this golf season seeking closure to greatness. Three players have one gaping hole in their resumes to fill before claiming a career Grand Slam – winning all four majors in a lifetime.
It is the most exclusive of clubs. By comparison, membership at Augusta National is about as hard to come by as a Costco card.
Seeing how it’s the Masters, and Rory McIlroy is the one requiring a green jacket to complete his wardrobe of majors, he gets all the unwanted attention now.
“I got the first chance, I got the first opportunity,” McIlroy said earlier this year. “It would be nice to do it. Yeah. I mean it's not that you're thinking about it all the time, but there's three guys that have the chance to do it this year. I just want to win the tournament, not ahead of those guys or whatever, just the opportunity. It's bragging rights.”
The biggest of bragging rights. Only five golfers have won the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Champion over the span of their careers: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Ever heard of them?
McIlroy is just 28, but he is already behind schedule. Woods was the quickest to the career Slam, completing it in just 22 major appearances. The others, in order, were Nicklaus (27 appearances), Player (30), Hogan (33) and Sarazen (36). This Masters is McIlroy’s 37th appearance in major.
McIlroy is off to a good start. His first-round 69 was the second lowest of his 10 Thursdays at Augusta. His best was a 65 in 2011, back when he probably should have taken care of this last detail and we wouldn’t even be talking about his needs now. That was the tournament he owned for three rounds before ending up between the guest cabins off No. 10 – uninvited – on his way to a final-round 80.
Given his youth, his game and his ever-growing file of intelligence on Augusta National, McIlroy inevitably will win the Masters and get his career Slam. So it seems. He just can’t not win here, right?
First, he’ll have to clean up some details in those pesky middle rounds. McIlroy traditionally gets off to a good start here – average first round score 70.89. And that 80 aside, his average final round score is still under par – 71.25. It’s rounds two (72.22) and three (73), the meat in the sandwich, where the troubles lie.
He just has to figure that out. But, then you would have thought Arnold Palmer would have picked up at least one PGA Championship somewhere along the line, if only by accident.
That’s the same tournament, at the end of the majors trail, that Jordan Spieth must win for his Slam. It’s almost unimaginable that he won’t win one in the next 15 years of his prime.
The other three-quarters Slam guy is Phil Mickelson, who keeps finishing second in the U.S. Open (six times). His time to fill out the historic foursome may have passed.
But those are players and tournaments and quests for another day. This week, McIlroy is alone in history’s crosshairs.