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Spieth seeks youngest Career Slam, Rory hunts more Quail glory

Jordan Spieth plays a shot out of a bunker on the ninth hole during the first round of the World Golf Championships on August 3, 2017 in Akron, Ohio © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Gregory Shamus

CHARLOTTE, United States, Aug 4 – Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, fresh off a British Open triumph, can become the youngest golfer to complete the career Grand Slam with a victory in next week’s PGA Championship.

The 24-year-old American could join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen on the select list of those who have won the Masters, US and British Opens and the PGA.

Winning next week would give Spieth, who captured the 2015 Masters and US Open, the Career Slam at 24 years and 17 days, breaking the age mark set by Woods, who was 24 years and 6 months when he won the 2000 British Open to complete his Career Slam.

But Spieth made it clear he’s more concerned about his chances to complete the Slam over a lifetime than the youngest-ever opportunity that comes only next week.

“My focus isn’t on completing the career grand slam,” Spieth said. “My focus is on (winning) the PGA Championship.

“If I’m healthy and playing well, I’ll play in 30 of them. I believe I’ll have plenty of chances to win them. But it doesn’t have to be this year. If it’s this year and it happens, that’s great, that’s another life-long goal that we’ve then achieved.

“But I believe I’ll do it someday, so if it happens next week, then fantastic, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not going to be a big-time bummer whatsoever because I know I have plenty of opportunities.”

The year’s final major showdown will be staged at Quail Hollow, which hosts a US PGA Tour event each May but skipped this season to prepare the 7,600-yard course to test the world’s greatest players.

It’s a course where Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, seeking his fifth major triumph, has enjoyed great success. He won PGA Wells Fargo Championships at Quail Hollow in 2010 and 2015 and finished second in 2012.

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“I’m excited to go back to Quail Hollow,” McIlroy said. “It’s one of those courses that I’ve had a lot of success on in the past. I’ve played well there basically every time I’ve went.

“But it’s going to be different. We played Quail Hollow in May before. It’s going to be August. It’s a different grass. Obviously they’ve redone a couple of the holes and the layout is a little bit different. But I’m excited to get back.”

– ‘Time I stepped up and won’ –

McIlroy’s major trophy haul includes the 2011 US Open, 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships and 2014 British Open. He has missed three tries at his own career Grand Slam at the Masters, taking fourth in 2015, sharing 10th in 2016 and seventh this year.

It will be a three-year major win drought if McIlroy doesn’t take the title next week.

“I feel like I’ve been going for a fifth major for a long time,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s about time I stepped up and won one.

“(I) have a couple of Wanamaker trophies. It would be nice to make that a hat trick.”

It will also be McIlroy’s first major since splitting with long-time caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, who was with him for nine seasons and all four major triumphs.

“It’s a big change. J.P. has been a huge part of my life,” McIlroy said. “I got to the point where if I didn’t play a good shot or if I made a wrong decision, I was getting more frustrated at him than I was at myself. I would much rather be angry at myself for making a wrong decision than being angry at him.”

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But McIlroy said rebounding from a horrid start at the British Open to share fourth has made a difference for him.

“I feel like I’ve started to turn a corner with how I played at the Open,” McIlroy said. “I definitely feel like my game is going in the right direction.”

– 100th major for Els, Lefty –

The 99th PGA Championship also marks the 100th major start for two veteran stars, four-time major champion Ernie Els of South Africa and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, the US left-hander who needs only a US Open to complete a Career Slam.

For now, Spieth is on that list with Mickelson and 11 others to win only three of the four majors. He knows the next step to join Nicklaus, Woods, Player, Hogan and Sarazen is a huge one.

“To be in that company, no doubt, is absolutely incredible and I certainly appreciate it,” Spieth said. “But I’m very careful as to what that means going forward because what those guys have done has transcended the sport.

“In no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that, whatsoever. So it’s a good start, but there is a long way to go.”

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