SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The combined winning score of the four majors in 2015 was 58 under par. Jordan Spieth’s combined score in the four majors in 2015: 54 under.
On Sunday, Spieth wrapped up a major campaign in which he came up four shots shy of winning the single-season Grand Slam. He won twice, at the Masters and U.S. Open, finished a shot out of a three-man playoff at the British Open and wound up runner-up by three shots to Jason Day at the PGA Championship.
In the aftermath, Spieth offered a yin-and-yang assessment of what, on paper, is a season only rivaled by a handful in major-championship history.
“You can look at it two different ways,” Spieth said. “You can look at is as four shots shy of the Grand Slam … or you could look at it where maybe one putt [goes in] and I would only have one major this year.”
He’s right. Had Dustin Johnson’s 12-foot eagle bid found the bottom of the cup on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open in June, Spieth only has a green jacket to show for his year. Still, even if that putt did go in, Spieth’s line for the majors this year would be 1-T2-T4-2. That would still make him just the third man in golf history to finish in the top four in all four professional majors in a year (Jack Nicklaus in 1973 and Tiger Woods in 2005).
Spieth’s year falls short of what Woods did in 2000 and Ben Hogan accomplished in 1953, though there are certainly comparisons that look favorably on the young Texan.
At 54 under in the 2015 majors, Spieth eclipsed Woods’ 53-under campaign from 15 years ago. That’s great, but Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 and the British Open by eight at St. Andrews, where he became the first player, until Sunday, to hit 20 under par in a major championship.
However, Woods also wasn’t a factor in all four majors that year. Woods finished six back of Vijay Singh at the 2000 Masters, never a factor on Sunday for what would have been his second Augusta National title. Against the hypothetical Score to Win the Grand Slam, Woods finished six back, despite three wins.
The guys who finished second to Woods in that trio of 2000 major wins? Ernie Els twice, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn and Bob May. At the time, they had a combined two major wins. Count Els for four since he was there twice. Singh beat Woods for his second major title. Make it six.
Spieth beat guys with a combined seven majors under their belt, thanks in part to Phil Mickelson (T-2 at the Masters) owning a handful. Zach Johnson won his second and Jason Day had his first. That’s 10 majors.
Slipping by May, of all people, in that PGA playoff at Valhalla is what gives Woods’ 2000 the ultimate edge over Spieth.
Then there’s Ben Hogan in ’53, who played in six tournaments, winning five, including the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He didn’t play in the PGA because he wanted to get to Scotland early to learn Carnoustie before his first and only British Open appearance. (He also didn’t like that the PGA, at that time, was a match-play affair.)
The Hawk didn’t win in as impressive fashion as Woods, but was more dominant, at the age of 40 and four years removed from a near-fatal car wreck, than the 21-now-22-year-old Spieth.
Maybe the more apt comparison, then, is to Woods’ 2005: 1-2-1-T4. He won the Masters in a playoff over Chris DiMarco, coming from well back on Saturday to earn a fourth — and, to date, his last — Masters title. He won the British Open again at St. Andrews by two. He came up two short of Phil Mickelson in a Monday PGA finish at Baltusrol, where the PGA heads again next year, and two behind one-off U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell at Pinehurst No. 2. Like Spieth this year, Woods 10 years ago had the same finishes, including two wins, and was four shots away from the Grand Slam.
That’s heady company, but Woods has since never reproduced a season like that. Neither did Hogan after his ’53. Neither did Jack Nicklaus after his all-top-five years in 1971 and ’73. What Spieth has done is rare. No other man has done it twice.
Spieth is young. At just 22, he certainly has plenty of more years to find a 16-round groove like this. However, he’s surrounded by, in Spieth’s parlance, fearless players who don’t wilt under major pressure. His peers, including Rory McIlroy and Day, are longer and can more easily bend the knee of major championship venues. Though Spieth is, and will likely continue to be, the best putter on the planet, the game’s power movement will be impossible to halt.
So how does Spieth get better and chase the unicorn of a single-season Grand Slam? Perhaps the best thing for him to do is nothing. Look back with pride and clarity that his plan worked as well as anyone else’s ever has.
“I hope to have a season like this one at the biggest stages again,” Spieth said. “I hope that we can do this again. It’s not easy. It takes a lot out of you. I’m tired right now. I left it all out there.”
Then rest up, Jordan. The Masters is seven short months away.