Jordan Spieth can still win the career Grand Slam at Valhalla, but it won’t be easy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Before Jordan Spieth finished packing his bags for the 2024 PGA Championship and got on the plane bound for the Bluegrass State, he knew one of the questions that he would get asked in his pre-tournament press conference. In fact, the assembled media on Tuesday didn’t even have to ask because Speith addressed it in his opening remarks.

“It’s a major championship. It’s the one that’s eluded me so far, and it would be pretty incredible to work my way into contention and have a chance this week and see if I can try to make that history,” he Up to you. You cansaid.

The history that Spieth, 30, was referring to is winning the career Grand Slam. A dozen golfers have won three legs of the “impenetrable quadrilateral” but only five golfers — Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen — have won the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Spieth won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, then raised the Claret Jug after winning the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale. The closest he’s come to hoisting the Wanamaker trophy came back in his magical summer of 2015 when he was the runner-up to Jason Day at Whistling Straits.

After storms on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday softened Valhalla Golf Club, Thursday morning dawned sunny and windless, making conditions ideal for scoring. Xander Schauffele posted a bogey-free 62. Tony Finau and Sahith Theegala carded 65s and Rory McIlroy shot 66, but bogeys on the sixth and ninth holes (Spieth’s 15th and 18th, respectively) left the Texan with a 2-under 69 and seven shots off the lead and tied for 16th as the afternoon wave played the course.

On his final hole of the day, Spieth hit a wedge from 124 away from the hole that landed in a greenside bunker on the right. His next shot barely escaped the bunker and forced him to balance carefully as he chipped to save par. his attempt finished 5 inches from the cup and had to sting because, with storms forecast for Friday and Saturday, Spieth had to know that today was the day to make birdies and go low. After signing his card, Spieth was not among the players who talked with the media.

Coming into the PGA Championship, Spieth has had a frustrating year. In 12 events on the PGA Tour this season, he has three top 10s (third at The Sentry, T-6 at the WM Phoenix Open and T-10 at the Valero Texas Open), but he missed the cut at the Players Championship and the Masters.

“I stand by what I’ve kind of said a little bit this year,” Spieth said on Tuesday. “I feel like my mechanics are more sound than they have been in a long time. I feel like I’m driving the ball better, maybe, than I’ve ever driven the golf ball. I feel like I’m playing better than my results, and that’s really frustrating. It’s a different kind of frustration. It’s not kind of the same as when you’re searching for stuff.”

The numbers back up Spieth’s statement, to a point. At the end of Spieth’s amazing 2015 season, when he won two majors and almost won two more, he ranked 15th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and coming into this season’s PGA Championship, while his ranking is also 15th, his average of 0.504 is slightly higher than it was nine years ago and his average driving distance of 304.2 yards is more than 12 yards longer. Spieth is still an excellent putter too, but as the chart below reveals, his iron game, represented by Strokes Gained: Approach the Green has fallen dramatically.

Thursday at Valhalla Golf Club, it was more of the same. Spieth drove the ball well but hit only half the greens in regulation, and as Scottie Scheffler climbed the leaderboard early Thursday afternoon, Spieth ranked 107th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (-0.428).

Spieth has 54 more holes to play at the 106th PGA Championship, and he might stage a comeback and contend on the weekend. There were certainly flashes of solid iron play on Thursday, like the shot from 186 yards out to 10 feet to set up a birdie on 12 and the wedge from 102 yards to 2 feet on 13. A loose tee shot that Spieth liked coming off his driver’s face on the sixth hole led to a bogey, but starting Friday he can’t give away more shots and hope to win the one major that’s eluded him. He’s not chasing down Secretariat or American Pharoah at nearby Churchill Downs, but he’s already a few furlongs behind after the first turn.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek