St. Louis — The spotlight was downright searing when Jordan Spieth arrived at Quail Hallow last summer, fresh off a victory at Royal Birkdale that had put him on the precipice of the career Grand Slam.
He didn’t wilt.
Didn’t even wither.
Spieth just didn’t win, putting together four consistent-if-unspectacular rounds that left him tied for 28th, well behind good buddy Justin Thomas.
It was a good PGA Championship for a player that had come to expect greatness or at least have greatness expected of him.
But it also meant an entire year waiting for another shot at the Slam.
“I think I was probably a little more anxious last year, just because there was a big focus right after winning the Open Championship,” Spieth said Tuesday as thunder boomed and rain pelted Bellerive Country Club, washing out many practice rounds.
“I was fresh, in form, going to a place where if I worked up the leaderboard I could create a lot of noise.”
That noise? It’s softened considerably during the last year, and the spotlight that accompanied him to Quail Hallow shines a little less brightly on Spieth in St. Louis.
He’s yet to win since Royal Birkdale, the missed cuts becoming too frequent for comfort.
He looked as if he might be turning the corner at the British Open last month when he shot 65 on Saturday to surge into contention, but a birdie-less Sunday and final-round 76 dropped him to the wayside.
He followed that with three rounds in the 70s at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, leaving him a full 20 shots off the pace — and outside the top 20 for the eighth consecutive event.
“I’m a little under the radar this year, and I don’t mind it,” Spieth acknowledged, “but at the same time, this tournament will always be circled until hopefully I win it one day.”
The 25-year-old Spieth has only taken that one crack at joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods in completing the modern Grand Slam.
But history suggests that if he doesn’t lift the Wannamaker Trophy soon, Spieth might never accomplish the feat.
Nicklaus needed just three tries after winning the PGA in ’63 to win his first British Open, and Player likewise needed three tries after the ’65 U.S. Open to win his first British.
Woods needed about a month between the U.S. Open and British Open in 2000, then added the PGA a few weeks later and the Masters the following year to hold all four majors at the same time.
“I only had to think about it for about a month,” Woods said of the career Slam.
“I had won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the Open Championship was at St. Andrews a month later, so I wasn’t really asked a lot, other than, ‘What would it be like to complete the career Grand Slam at St. Andrews?’”
He certainly didn’t have to endure the questions that followed Arnold Palmer, who tried for more than three decades to finish the Slam at the PGA, or Tom Watson, or spent 24 years chasing it.
Or the questions that have started to follow Rory McIlroy, who needs to win the Masters, and Phil Mickelson, who has played the U.S. Open five times without capturing the only major he’s missing.
“Having had a few goes at it, I think less expectations is better,” McIlroy said.
“Trying to take pressure off yourself, trying to treat it like any normal week, just trying to win the golf tournament that week, sort of put it out of your head that what winning this golf tournament would mean in terms of your legacy and your place in the game.
“So, yeah, I mean I can probably relate a little bit.”
Woods takes ice bath
Woods at times looks similar to the guy who won the PGA Championship four times among his 14 major titles, except for the results.
And except for the way he began the week of the final major of the year.
He took an ice bath.
“Just trying to get some inflammation down, and just trying to get ready for the rest of the week,” Woods said Tuesday, saying only that the inflammation was “everywhere,” without elaborating what caused it.
“And a lot of stretching. Did a light lift yesterday and was ready to go for today.”
Little good that did him. Rain pounded Bellerive Country Club, twice suspending practice rounds. His health has held up nicely, especially coming off his fourth back surgery.
“There’s going to be certain days that I’m just not going to have the speed and the flexibility and the movement that I once did,” Woods said.
“I’m 42 now, and I’ve had four back surgeries. So things are going to be different from day to day, and it’s just about managing it. Before, I didn’t really have any of those issues early in my career because I didn’t have a fixed point in my back.”