The Lost Major: Golfers to win three legs of the Career Grand Slam

Who will become the sixth man to collect all four of golf's most prestigious titles?

There are only five golfers who have completed the illustrious Career Grand Slam.

The list of names to have won each of The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open and PGA Championship is not only short, but riddled with notoriety.

Indeed, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen make quite the formidable quintet.

With 33 majors between them, Nicklaus and Woods can be regarded as different specimens – both have enough of the relevant championships to complete the Grand Slam three times over.

Yet as we sit back and admire the accomplishments of these famous five, what of the players who are (or were) one leg away from forging their own place in the Grand Slam vernacular?

There are 12 altogether. Three will still very much fancy their chances. Several never got the chance to make it four of a kind.

Here, we breakdown the names, titles, hoodoos and fourth round collapses that characterise the wait for a sixth Grand Slam great.

Lee Trevino (6 Major Wins)

Missing Link: The Masters

The charismatic Trevino is one of only four players to win the U.S. Open, The Open and the PGA Championship twice.

In 1968 at Oak Hill, he became the first player to shoot all four regulation rounds under par at the U.S. Open. His rounds consisted of 69-68-69-69.

Furthermore, during a quite remarkable 20-day span in 1971, he defeated Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S Open, before winning the Canadian Open two weeks later and The Open the week after that.

From 1968 to 1981, Trevino won at least one PGA Tour event a year – a streak of 14 seasons which, alongside his infectious charisma, laid the foundations for his instrumental impact in making the PGA Tour Champions an early success.

Late in his career, he remarked, “I played the tour in 1967 and told jokes and nobody laughed. Then I won The Open the next year, told the same jokes, and everybody laughed like hell.”

A difficult relationship with The Masters, however, kept Trevino from completing the fabled Slam.

Following the 1969 tournament at Augusta National, he said: “Don’t talk to me about The Masters. I’m never going to play there again.

“They can invite me all they want, but I’m not going back. It’s just not my type of course.”

Not only was Trevino openly uncomfortable with the atmosphere at Augusta, but he indicated that his left to right fade was not suited to the layout of the track.

He boycotted the tournament in 1970, 1971 and 1974, but would later describe these decisions as the greatest mistake he made in his career.

His best finish at the Masters was a tie for 10th place in 1975 and 1985. He notably shot an opening round 67 (-5) at the 1989 iteration, becoming the oldest man ever to lead the field in Georgia at age 49, but could only convert his fast start into a tie for 18th overall.

Rory McIlroy (4 Majors)

Missing Link: The Masters

Tour Championship R4 - Rory McIlroy secures Tour Championship and FedEx Cup glory in Atlanta
Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship (John Amis/AP)

One of the three current PGA Tour players just one leg away from the Career Grand Slam, McIlroy is also one of only four players to win three majors by the age of 25.

The men he has for company?

Nicklaus, Woods and Jordan Spieth. Elite.

The Northern Irishman has won two PGA Championships (2012 and 2014), a U.S. Open (2011) and The Open (2014), with The Masters proving his kryptonite thus far.

He famously collapsed in the final round of the 2011 Masters.

Leading after the first, second and third round, McIlroy held a four-stroke advantage heading into the final 18. Yet on the Sunday, he shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after 54 holes at the tournament – an eight-over-par 80.

This back nine meltdown did not impact his major psyche too much, however, as he went on to redeem himself with a dominant U.S. Open win at Congressional two months later.

Since 2014, McIlroy has found himself in contention at Augusta every year, recording five top-ten finishes on the trot. His best finish is an outright fourth place in 2015, where he finished six shots behind the eventual winner – an unstoppable Jordan Spieth.

The 2011 Masters is, perhaps more so than any other on this list, the ‘one that got away’ – and the annual April expectation surrounding McIlroy each season is superseded only by Phil Mickelson’s similar quest for the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson (5 Majors)

Missing Link: U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson fired his third career round of 60 in the opening round of the Desert Classic.

Mickelson has won three Masters titles (2004, 2006, 2010), a PGA Championship (2005) and an Open Championship (2013) – missing only the U.S. Open to complete the Career Slam.

Astonishingly, Lefty has no less than six runner-up finishes at his elusive national championship – with the 2006 tournament representing his best opportunity.

In 2006 at Winged Foot, Mickelson entered the tournament off the back of two consecutive major wins – the 2005 PGA and the 2006 Masters.

Bidding to join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three consecutive majors, he was tied for the lead heading into the final round. However, a wild finish would cost him the title.

Needing a par down the last to secure the title, Mickelson chose to hit driver off the tee, having only hit two of thirteen fairways during his final round thus far.

Losing his tee shot way right, Phil would hit an overhanging tree with his second, plug the ball in a greenside bunker with his third and subsequently could not get up and down to force an 18-hole playoff with the champion, Geoff Ogilvy.

His reaction in the aftermath was one of shock, stating: “I can’t believe I did that. This one hurts more than any tournament because I had it won”.

Mickelson was embroiled in controversy at the same event in 2018, when he hit his ball back towards the hole when it was still moving, following a poor putt on the lightning-quick Shinnecock Hills greens.

Deemed by many to have acted in a manner not befitting the spirit of the game, this episode is perhaps a fitting example of Mickelson’s ongoing frustration at this event

Jordan Spieth (3 Majors)

Missing Link: PGA Championship

Jordan Spieth hopes weather won't ruin his bid to retain Open, © Getty Images

Jordan Spieth’s start to the 2015 season had punters whispering about a possible calendar-year Grand Slam for the Texan.

Spieth won the 2015 Masters with a record equalling score of 270 (-18) – tying Tiger Woods (1997) for the 72-hole Augusta best.

He would then go on to win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay by a shot, following Dustin Johnson’s three-putt at the last.

His quest for the Grand Slam ended with a tied 4th finish at The Open – his total of -14 just one agonizing stroke out of a playoff.

Following a second-place finish at the PGA behind Jason Day, Spieth had recorded top-five finishes in all of the 2015 majors – including two victories. His stunning season was fittingly capped with a win at the Tour Championship at East Lake.

After a McIlroy-esque collapse in the final round at The Masters in 2016, Spieth missed a golden chance to go back to back at Augusta.

A nightmare around Amen Corner saw him card a quadruple bogey at the par-three 12th, after he twice chunked his approach into Rae’s Creek. This opened the door for Danny Willett to claim the green jacket, and his first major title.

Spieth would, however, secure his third major – The Open at Royal Birkdale – three months later, following a fierce battle with Matt Kuchar.

Although struggling to replicate the dominant form of his 2015-16 stretch, Spieth never fails to turn heads at The Masters, where he has an astonishing record.

In 2018, despite a winless season, he shot 66 in the first round at Augusta to lead by two. Although he only entered the final round at -5, he tied the best final round score in Masters history – an 8-under 64 – which was good for third place.  

The PGA Championship is the one missing major from Spieth’s armoury.

Tom Watson (8 Majors)

Missing Link: PGA Championship

Watson has score to settle at St Andrews, © Getty Images

Another man for whom the PGA Championship has proved unobtainable is Tom Watson.

The American, who is regarded as one of the greatest links players of all time, has 5 Open Championships to prove it.

Even at nearly 60 years of age, Watson narrowly lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink at the 2009 Open – a mark of his longevity and affinity with the tournament.

He also won the Senior British Open three times in five years from 2003-2007.

In addition to this haul, Watson has won two green jackets and his national championship.

Arnold Palmer (7 Majors)

Missing Link: PGA Championship

Palmer, alongside Nicklaus and Gary Player, made up the ‘Big Three’ in golf during the 1960s.

The early 60s were a particularly fruitful time for Palmer when it came to major championships.

Between 1960-63, Palmer won 29 PGA Tour events, including five majors (2 Masters, 2 Opens and 1 U.S. Open). The 1958 and 1964 Masters titles would take his major tally to seven, but he could never add the PGA to this.

Palmer is also credited by many for securing the status of The Open Championship among American players, as few U.S. professionals had travelled to play in the tournament prior to Ben Hogan’s win in 1953. This was due to a relatively small purse and the radically different links style golf courses.

Palmer, however, wanted to emulate Sam Snead and Bobby Jones as he sought to prove himself as a leading and malleable golfer.

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PGA Championship R3

By GT Editor

The Rest:

Tommy Armour – (3 Majors, no Masters)

Jim Barnes – (4 Majors, no Masters)

Raymond Floyd – (4 Majors, no Open)

Walter Hagan – (11 Majors, no Masters)

Byron Nelson – (5 Majors, no Open)

Sam Snead – (7 Majors, no U.S. Open)