SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — If Jordan Spieth wins the PGA Championship on Sunday, overcoming a two-shot deficit to Jason Day, the Texan could lay claim to the greatest major championship season in the game’s history.
Spieth would have three majors on the year, joining Ben Hogan in 1953 and Tiger Woods in 2000 as the only men to win three professional majors in a calendar year. He would have finished 1-1-T4-1 in the 2015 majors, becoming just the fourth player ever to finish in the top five in all four major championships and the third player to finish in the top four in all four majors in a year (Nicklaus in 1973, Woods in 2005).
So, before laying out the case for Spieth, let’s set up Hogan and Woods.
In ’53, Hogan went 1-1-DNP-1, skipping the PGA Championship because he couldn’t play the event and still make it to his first and only British Open in time and that the PGA of America’s major was still a match-play affair, and Hogan didn’t appreciate the vagaries of the format. Hogan won his Triple Crown with an aggregate 25-under score and by a combined 15 shots.
Add in that Hogan did all this at the age of 40 and four years after a car wreck that nearly killed him, as well the fact that Hogan won five of six tournaments he played in that year, and his 1953 is arguably as perfect as it gets.
Then came along Woods in 2000. After finishing in fifth at the Masters in April, six shots behind winner Vijay Singh, Woods dominated the next two majors, winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 and the Open Championship by eight. At Valhalla for the PGA Championship, journeyman and childhood junior golf foe Bob May gave Woods a run for the Wanamaker, with the season’s final major decided in a three-hole playoff for the first time. Woods got the better of May thanks, in part, to taking advantage of a fortunate bounce off the tee in the first playoff hole.
Woods won his three majors by a combined 23 shots at the age of 24. He finished the 16 rounds of the majors at 53 under par, the best-ever total in the majors for a single year.
So how does Spieth stack up? Assuming a win, Spieth would become the first player to win three majors before turning 23, and he’d have finished the year just two strokes — potentially one, were he to have gotten into the British Open playoff and won — away from winning the single-season Grand Slam.
Of course, with the PGA a match-play event in 1953, it’s impossible to even compare how Hogan would have hypothetically done had the schedule permitted him playing. Spieth did play the first three majors of 2015 in 37 under par, which is 12 better than Hogan did in his three in ’53. However, Spieth won his two majors by a combined five shots and lost the Open by one, so he was only four better than the aggregate field. Hogan was more dominant, but Spieth did it earlier in his career. So what’s more impressive? Does the adage “age before beauty” apply?
Woods not only scored well, but he massacred two major fields at historic venues en route to his wins. The soundness of the beatdowns gives Woods some style points that Spieth doesn’t have. However, Spieth did set the 36- and 54-hole Masters scoring records, as well tying the 72-hole record Woods set in 1997. Also, with a 68 or better in the final round at Whistling Straits, Spieth will lay claim to Woods’ single-year aggregate score in the majors, shooting at least 54 under par in the 16 rounds this year. Woods was 53 under in 2000.
We’ll also never know how Spieth would have done compared to the field had the Chambers Bay greens not been lost on Friday of championship week. He may have pulled away, but his best skill was neutralized.
The problem with saying that Woods’ season was better is that he was never a factor in the Masters that year. Singh didn’t have much problem in winning the green jacket. Meanwhile, Spieth had the British Open in his hands on the 71st hole, meaning he would have been closer to the finish line of the single-year Grand Slam.
Spieth played all four, is younger than Woods and Hogan were and was closer to taking them all. Advantage Spieth?