Golf's greatest tournament never fails to deliver stunning performances--and complete meltdowns.
Thanks to Tiger Woods and his off-course troubles, this year's Masters is shaping up to be one of the most-watched golf tournaments ever. CBS officials have said it will be the most-watched event since President Obama's inauguration.
But will it be memorable for anything other than Tiger's return to golf? Can the play on the course live up to the off-course hype? We won't know until Sunday. But the Masters always seems to deliver.
We put the feet of three Augusta National aficionados to the fire to cough up their favorite moments from one of golf's greatest tournaments. Our experts were Ron Green Sr., a columnist for the Charlotte Observer and author of 101 Reasons to Love the Masters, who will be attending his 56th Masters this year; Furman Bisher, longtime columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who will be covering his 62nd Masters; and David Sowell, author of The Masters: A Hole-by-Hole History of America's Golf Classic.
Golden Bear Dominance
According to Green, Jack Nicklaus' victory in the 1986 Masters was the most gratifying ever. The Golden Bear was 46, well past his prime, and 23 years removed from his first green jacket.
"And there he was, his son carrying his clubs, sinking big putt after big putt," says Green. Nicklaus would defy his age, shooting a 30 on the back nine for a final round of 65, to come from behind to defeat Tom Kite, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros.
"It was just one of those rare occasions when everything is just right," says Green. "It got all of us in the heart and throat."
Nicklaus shows up a second time on the list. In the 1975 Masters, Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller were locked in a duel on the back nine of the final round. On the final day Nicklaus was one group ahead of Weiskopf and Miller. He stood on the green at the par 3 16th, eyeing a 40-foot putt for birdie as Weiskopf and Miller watched from the tee. The Golden Bear sank the putt, then danced around the green as the crowd roared.
Miller would later say: "I saw bear tracks." Nicklaus went on to win.
All three of our panelists mentioned the 1995 Masters, when Ben Crenshaw won his second green jacket. What made it memorable was that Harvey Penick, Crenshaw's golf teacher since he was 7 years old, had died the week before. Crenshaw spent the Tuesday of Masters week at Penick's funeral in Austin, Texas. The image of Crenshaw doubled over in grief and happiness after his final putt dropped has become an iconic Augusta image.
"The gods of golf let him win that Sunday," says Green.
The 1954 Masters was high on drama, too. An amateur, Billy Joe Patton, "a man from the hills," says Bisher, had the lead late in the fourth round. "His buddies from the hills kept yelling ‘Go for it, Billy. Go for it.'"
Go for it Patton did, and on both 13 and 15 he found the water. He missed making a playoff with two legends--Sam Snead and Ben Hogan--by a stroke. Snead would go on to beat Hogan 70-71 in the 18-hole playoff. Sowell says the 1954 tournament was the "first modern Masters."
But Sowell is partial to the 1987 Masters, when Larry Mize, an unheralded local boy, defeated Greg Norman on the second playoff hole with a 140-foot chip-in, one of the most dramatic shots in Masters history. (Poor Norman also makes our list for his meltdown in the final round of the 1996 Masters).
Right up there with Mize's chip is Gene Sarazen's 235-yard double-eagle on 15 at the 1935 Masters. "Very few people ever saw it, but it is one of the all-time great shots in golf," says Sowell. The shot essentially put him in a playoff with Craig Wood, which Sarazen won.
One of the greatest Masters performances, however, has to be that of Tiger Woods. Though when he tees off this year most fans won't be thinking or talking about his 1997 win, it was one of the most memorable Augusta National has ever seen.
The then-21-year-old Woods won his first Masters by a record 12 strokes. His win heralded the beginning of a new era and the start of a superstar's career--one that has, of course, recently run off track. Then again, all that could change with another spectacular win this year.
"Boy, it would be up there," says Green of a possible Woods victory. "I think he'll play well. I hope he does. I love seeing history made."
(Monte Burke, Forbes.com)