Rory McIlroy’s fourth bid for the career Grand Slam was his best chance. He played in the final group with Patrick Reed and pulled to within one shot early until his putter failed him. He tied for fifth, and would seem to have time on his side.
“Come back again next year and try,” McIlroy said. “I’ve played in two final groups in the last seven years. I’ve had five top 10s. I play this golf course well. I just haven’t played it well enough at the right time.”
McIlroy has five straight top 10s, though he has yet to finish closer than six shots to the winner.
From purely a historical perspective, it might not get any easier the longer he goes.
While five players have completed the career Grand Slam, only three of them knew what they were winning. The modern version of the Grand Slam didn’t really start until Arnold Palmer raised the notion of winning all four professional majors in 1960. No one asked Gene Sarazen about the career Grand Slam when he won the Masters in 1935. Augusta National didn’t even award a green jacket until 1952. Ben Hogan won the fourth leg at Carnoustie in 1953.
That leaves Gary Player (completed in 1965), Jack Nicklaus (1966) and Tiger Woods (2000).
What they have in common is that each was in his 20s when he completed the Grand Slam. McIlroy will be 29 at next year’s Masters.
Player went 24 majors from his first one (1959 British Open) until he completed the slam at the 1965 U.S. Open. Nicklaus went 18 majors between his first (1962 U.S. Open) and completing it at the 1966 British Open. Woods took only 15 majors between his first and his fourth different major (1997 Masters to the 2000 British Open).
McIlroy finished his 27th major last week since winning the 2011 U.S. Open. It will be 31 majors, presuming good health, when he returns to the Masters next year.
Jordan Spieth has more time on his side. Spieth is 24. The PGA Championship, which he lacks for the career slam, will be his 16th major start since winning his first one at the 2015 Masters.
As for Phil Mickelson? Remember, he didn’t win his first major until he was 33.
“If it’s this year or not, they will do it. They have got a lot of time,” Mickelson said of McIlroy and Spieth. “They won their majors very early in their career. I didn’t start until I was 33 and they’re not even close to that. So they will get it done. But I need to get it done soon.”
POULTER’S PERKS: Depending on the player, a spot in the Masters is often the first perk that gets mentioned upon winning a full PGA Tour event.
That was the case for Ian Poulter, especially under his circumstances.
He initially had been told a week earlier, before the quarterfinals of Match Play, that he already had done enough to get into the Masters through the world ranking. Then he was told he had to win one more match, which he lost. So the Masters was a popular topic when Poulter won the Houston Open.
But there was so much more to winning.
“Ryder Cup points, FedEx Cup points, world ranking points,” Poulter said, listing them off in no particular order.
No one wants to miss the Masters. But the victory in Houston moved him to No. 29 in the world — Poulter is No. 31 this week — and makes it likely he will remain high enough to get into the U.S. Open and British Open.
He is high on the table for the Ryder Cup, though still outside the eight automatic qualifiers. He is No. 25 in FedEx Cup.
And he gets to retool his schedule.
“It’s hard to go play when you’re just on the other side of the top 50. That’s the golden ticket in golf,” Poulter said. “I’m enjoying my golf. I have been enjoying my golf. But this opens everything up for me.”
He’ll be at Firestone for another World Golf Championship. And he can spend most of his summer in England when his children are on summer break, flying back for one week in June to play the U.S. Open.
So the Masters was a nice perk. Poulter closed with a 69 and tied for 44th. The ranking points might prove to be far more valuable.
MASTERS RETURN: Tony Finau has a Masters debut to remember. He made a hole-in-one at the Par 3 Tournament, injured ligaments in his left ankle while jogging backward to celebrate it and ran off six straight birdies in the final round for a 66 to tie for 10th.
Finau said when he hurt his ankle he wasn’t about to miss his first Masters. He was eligible because he shot 64 in the final round of the BMW Championship to make it to the Tour Championship.
That’s no longer an issue. The top 12 at the Masters automatically return the following year. Finau knew that.
“Yep, 100 percent,” he said. “Finishing 20th this week, you’d like to think I’d be back. But nothing is guaranteed. That’s something I’ve learned in life and in this game. I look forward to being back here. It’s a golf course I know I can play, and I’ve proved that to myself this week.”
PGA TOUR SLOGAN: After two decades, the PGA Tour is retiring its popular slogan, “These Guys Are Good.”
In its place is a new advertising campaign intended to attract a wider audience. The slogan is “Live Under Par,” playing off golf’s scoring system to par. Joe Arcuri, the tour’s chief marketing officer, said it tries to go beyond players’ performances to show how they connect with fans and other players.
“The new campaign captures not just a way to play, but a way to be,” Arcuri said.
It’s part of a “fan-first” mentality at the tour, which began with relaxing its mobile phone policy and social media guidelines at tournaments. In recent years, the PGA Tour has gone from banning photos during competition days to fielding complaints that tournaments need to boost the cell service at tournaments because so many fans are trying to use social media.
“We are pulling the camera lens out, so to speak, to highlight the fun and excitement on tour and highlight the special interaction we see every week between our players and fans,” Arcuri said. “We believe this, in turn, will help spur broader interest among a more diverse group of fans.”
The new campaign begins this week.
DIVOTS: Five players in the Masters were at the Houston Open the week before and in the RBC Heritage the week after — Jason Dufner, Dylan Frittelli, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter. … Davis Love III has played in all eight PGA Tour events where his son, Dru, has received a sponsor’s exemption. That includes the RBC Heritage, where they are the first three-generation family to play. Davis Love Jr. played Hilton Head in 1969 and 1970. … Jordan Spieth has played the Masters five times. He has won, twice been runner-up, finished third and tied for 11th. That gives him an average of $890,640 in earnings per appearance. Jack Nicklaus earned $892,359 in his career at the Masters.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Eleven of the last 16 major champions were in their 20s.
FINAL WORD: “I put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors now because I know that I don’t have a ton of time to win them.” — Phil Mickelson, who turns 48 next month. The Masters was his 97th major as a pro.