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Mickelson isn’t only one chasing history

The Career Grand Slam is Mount Rushmore for golfers. It is reserved for the greatest of the greats, those who captured all four modern major championships: Masters, U.S. and British Opens, PGA.

Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods completed the feat. Bobby Jones won the original “impregnable quadrilateral” (writer O.B. Keeler’s catchier phrase for what would become known as the Grand Slam) when it meant the U.S. and British Amateurs and Opens. He swept all four in 1930.

Golf’s Mount Rushmore should be seen as a work in progress. Another face could be added after this week’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.

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Phil Mickelson lacks only the U.S. Open to complete the Career Grand Slam.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Phil Mickelson lacks only the U.S. Open to complete the Career Grand Slam.

Phil Mickelson is the luckless Open golfer who has finished second a record six times but never harpooned his white whale. Shinnecock Hills was where he had his second most gut-wrenching disappointment, in 2004. Winged Foot in 2006 and his “I am such an idiot” lament is No. 1. 

While controversy swirled about the greens and players fell back around him in 2004 at Shinnecock, Mickelson mounted an Arnold Palmer-like charge, took the lead late on the back nine and was on the verge of thrilling his vocal New York fans until he made double bogey from a greenside bunker at the 17th hole, lost the lead and, moments later, the tournament to Retief Goosen.

Mickelson will turn 48 on Saturday. He gets a chance at redemption and another shot at Rushmore. 

He is not alone among those who have some kind of Slam potential. Here’s your guide to where and when some other Slam Sandwiches might go down:

PGA Championship: Like Mickelson, Jordan Spieth has three-fourths of the Career Grand Slam. Spieth needs a PGA. That puts him in good company with Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, two legends who also never got it done in August. Spieth was runner-up at the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, where Jason Day set the all-time major scoring record of 20 under.

British Open: No current golfer needs a British Open to fill out his official Career Grand Slam, but last year, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen completed the Runner-up Grand Slam when he finished second at the PGA Championship. Yes, Oosthuizen has quietly come in second in all four majors.

Oosthuizen is one of only seven players who can claim that feat. Craig Wood, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson are also in that club. Include the Players Championship, however, and that club’s membership shrinks to just Oosthuizen and Watson.

“At the end of the day, they are going to remember the guys who won the majors,” Oosthuizen told the Augusta Chronicle, “and not who finished second.”

Two players need to finish second at Carnoustie in July to join the Runner-up Grand Slam club: Tiger Woods and Jason Day. This is the only slam title that more than one golfer can win at once; Woods and Day could tie for second, for example. It’s also the only slam title that nobody wants to win. “You wonder, where are the wins?” Oosthuizen said.

Masters: Check back next April in Augusta, Ga. Rory McIlroy would wrap up the Career Grand Slam with a victory in the Masters. Augusta National’s greens consistently have baffled him, but at 29, hey, he’s still got a lot of chances.

In a bit of clever inside parlance, the USGA paired the players currently chasing the slam – McIlroy, Spieth and Mickelson – in the same threesome at Shinnecock Hills this week.

Northern Trust: The FedEx Cup consists of four events. Has anyone corralled the FedEx Cup Career Slam?

No, but McIlroy claims three legs, having won the Deutsche Bank Championship (now the Dell Technologies Championship), the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. He can complete the slam by winning the Northern Trust at Ridgewood Country Club in late August. 

Surprisingly, Tiger Woods is not in FedEx Cup Slam Sandwich range. He has won four FedEx Cup playoff events but only two different tournaments in the postseason: BMW Championship and the Tour Championship, twice each.

Triple Open Crown Slam: Lee Trevino’s sweep of three big national opens in the summer of 1971 – the U.S., British and Canadian Opens – was quite a triple-crown moment. It took 29 years for it to be duplicated. Tiger Woods did it in 2000 when he was in the midst of the Tiger Slam, winning four straight major championships not in the same calendar year.

When Woods won the Bell Canadian Open, it was his fifth tournament scoring record in as many starts (he shot 22 under at Glen Abbey) and his ninth win of the year. “I’ve had a good summer,” Woods deadpanned.

No active players have done in a career what Woods and Trevino did in one summer. Here’s who is on the precipice of this unusual Triple Slam: Jim Furyk, who needs a British Open; and Jordan Spieth, who lacks a Canadian Open.  

World Golf Championships: Only one player has won all four current WGC events (Mexico, Firestone, Match Play and China), the Career WGC Slam. That player’s name does not rhyme with liger.

Dustin Johnson finished off a worldly career slam when he won the Match Play title last year in Austin, Texas.

Woods did have a WGC Career Slam with an asterisk, which is funny because he’s got 18 WGC titles, including eight at Firestone. He also partnered with David Duval to win the World Cup, which was briefly part of the original WGC fold. 

Woods could match Johnson with the updated WGC Slam by winning in China. No other players are a victory away from a slam. In fact, only Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy have won as many as three WGC titles. 

California Slam: There are four major stops in California, not counting the PGA Tour fall events: Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Palm Springs and Riviera. Only one current player has won each of them at least once: Mickelson, a San Diego native. Current players who could be California Slam dreamin’ because they’re halfway are Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker (Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines); Bill Haas (Palm Springs, Riviera); Dustin Johnson (Pebble Beach, Riviera); and Bubba Watson (Riviera, Torrey Pines).

Texas Slam. The only player to mess with Texas in slamming fashion is Australian Adam Scott, who has won all four stops in the state: Houston Open, AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational (Colonial) and the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. Mickelson needs only a win at the Valero Texas Open to join Scott in TexSlam history.

 

Florida Slam. Now that Doral no longer hosts a tournament, the Florida Swing is down to Innisbrook, Bay Hill, PGA National and TPC Sawgrass.

This slam looks unlikely. The courses are just too different, and too many top players don’t play them all. A three-fifths slam is the best that I can find, and that’s counting Doral when it hosted the WGC event from 2007 to 2016. Woods and Mickelson each won at Bay Hill, Sawgrass and Doral; Ernie Els won at Doral, Bay Hill and PGA National; and Scott won at PGA National, Doral and Sawgrass.

Impressive feats, yes, but not quite slammin’. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle