MclIroy, Mickelson, Spieth target grand slam elite

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AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 21: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland smiles after making a long birdie putt on the 14th hole green during round one of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club on March 21, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)

It’s such a rare feat that only five players in golf’s modern era have achieved the career grand slam of all four majors, yet this season three men have realistic chances of joining that lofty elite.

Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth are in a race to stand alongside Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods as true legends of the game.

McIlroy just needs the Masters, the first major of the year, at Augusta in April; Mickelson is the US Open’s perennial bridesmaid with a record six runner-up spots in the only major he needs to complete the set; Spieth can seal the slam with victory in the US PGA in August.

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy goes to Augusta for his fourth attempt at securing the grand slam after winning the US PGA, the last of his four majors, in 2014.

The 28-year-old climbed back to world No. 7 with his first win since 2016 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and is favorite for the green jacket.

Mickelson’s recent victory, his 43rd on the PGA Tour and first since 2013, proved the veteran left-hander still has what it takes to add to his haul of five majors.

The 47-year-old left-hander could yet add a fourth Masters title before he reaches June’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, scene of one of his near misses back in 2004.

When Spieth won the Open in remarkable fashion at Royal Birkdale last year, he became the second youngest player after Nicklaus to win three different majors before his 24th birthday.

Victory in this year’s US PGA would make Spieth the second youngest grand slam winner — only Woods won all four before the age of 25.

CNN Sport takes a look at the five golfing greats who have completed a career grand slam in golf’s Masters era. No one has yet won all four in a calendar year although Woods achieved the “Tiger Slam” — holding all four majors across two calendar years (US Open, British Open, US PGA in 2000 and Masters in 2001).

Gene Sarazen (1935)

The great American amateur Bobby Jones clinched the big four of the day — the British Amateur, British Open, US Open and US Amateur — in 1930, but Gene Sarazen was the first player to achieve what would become known as the career grand slam.

The American, credited with inventing the modern sand wedge, dominated the 1922 season, winning the US Open and US PGA Championship in quick succession aged just 20.

It would, however, take a full decade for him to clinch the British Open. Sarazen took home the winner’s share of £100 at the 67th Open Championship in 1932 — the only time it was ever held at Prince’s Golf Club in southeast England.

He completed the set at Augusta National in the second ever Masters in 1935 aged 33, emerging victorious thanks to a final-round double eagle at the par-five 15th now known as the “shot heard around the world.”

Sarazen had been three shots off the lead until his albatross — one of just four ever made at the Masters to this day — and went on to win the 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood.

Ben Hogan (1953)

The American won the first of his nine majors at the age of 34 in 1946, but he nearly lost his life in a serious car crash three years later.

However, Hogan recovered to win his fourth major at the US Open in 1950, and conquered the career grand slam in 1953, winning the British Open at Carnoustie on the first and only occasion he entered.

That win was just part of a golden season for the 40-year-old Texan with the textbook swing. He also won the Masters and US Open and could have won of all four majors that year, had the British Open not clashed with the US PGA.

Still, his “Triple Crown” season has only been emulated once since, by Woods a full 47 years later.

Gary Player (1965)

Despite the achievements of Sarazen and Hogan, the modern notion of the “grand slam” was really popularized by Arnold Palmer in 1960.

The idea spread like wildfire, but Palmer — a seven-time major winner — was never able to secure the US PGA to complete the set, placing second on three occasions.

Instead, globe-trotting South African Gary Player sealed the deal when he won his fourth major, the US Open, in 1965 at the age of 29, six years on from his first.

Player’s victory at Bellerive Country Club made him the first foreign-born winner of the US Open for 38 years.

The man known as the “Black Knight” added two more Masters, two more British Opens and a US PGA, but another US Open eluded him in his quest for a second grand slam. Player remains the only non-American to boast a career grand slam in golf.

Jack Nicklaus (1966)

Jack Nicklaus joined the grand slam club aged 26 — two years older than Woods — when he won the 1966 British Open at Muirfield.

He might have done so even earlier.

The Golden Bear was midway through his 24th year when he won his third major at the 1963 PGA Championship. It took him another three years to add the final piece of the puzzle.

Not that he let up. Nicklaus, a record 18-time major winner, accomplished the “double” career grand slam in 1971 and the “triple” just seven years later.

The last three of his majors were secured over the age of 40, and his final title — the 1986 Masters — at 46.

Tiger Woods (2000)

Woods is the youngest player in history to have achieved the career grand slam.

The American made his major breakthrough at the Masters in 1997, added the US PGA in 1999 and clinched the US Open and British Open at St Andrews in 2000 at the age of 24.

Woods also won the US PGA that year to complete the “Triple Crown.”

He is the only other player alongside Nicklaus to win all four majors at least three times over the course of his career.

He secured a second grand slam at the 2005 British Open back at St Andrews and a third with the latest of his 14 major wins at the 2008 US Open.

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