The first major for 2012 is in the books and Bubba Watson is the proud new owner of a tasteful green jacket that should go nicely with his recently purchased original “General Lee” car. Sunday at Augusta rarely fails to provide a thrilling finish and this year was no exception.
Watson’s sudden-death triumph will definitely be discussed as long as they are still playing the Masters and it got me thinking, what are the most memorable majors that I have seen and will never forget?
Keep in mind that I really didn’t start watching golf heavily until the year 2000, so all of these memorable majors come from the last 12 years.
5. 2011 U.S. Open- Winner: Rory McIlroy
After shooting a Sunday 80 in the final round of the 2011 Masters and blowing a four-shot lead in the process, not many people thought Rory McIlroy would contend in majors for a little while. Choking like he did in the Masters leaves scars, creates self-doubt and can shake the foundation of even the most talented golfers. Apparently someone forgot to tell all of this to McIlroy, who made U.S. Open golf look way too easy at Congressional Country Club on the way to his first major championship just two months after his collapse. While the eight-shot victory may not be as impressive as Tiger Woods’ 15-shot win in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, the fact that he performed this feat so soon after his mental collapse at the Masters gets it on this list. There were simply no weak parts of McIlroy’s game all week, and his 16 under total is the lowest in the history of the U.S. Open.
4. 2009 Open Championship- Winner: Stewart Cink (Loser: Tom Watson)
Heartbreaking. With all apologies to Stewart Cink, who is a great player and one I like very much, nobody was cheering for him to win the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. The story of the week was obviously 8-time major champion Tom Watson, who was in contention all week on the difficult Turnberry at the age of 59. Watson was one back of the lead on Thursday, and held at least a share of the lead after all four rounds in an attempt to become the oldest winner of a golf major by more than 10 years. When Stewart Cink rolled in a 15-foot birdie on the 18th hole to take the lead, it looked like Watson’s dream was finished, but he quickly answered with a birdie of his own and needed just a par on the last to claim his sixth Open Championship. But a failed up and down, including a missed short putt put him in a playoff with Cink, who was vying for his first major championship. After the short miss, Watson’s confidence and energy were clearly lost and Cink cruised to victory in the four-hole playoff. The collective hearts of golf fans worldwide were broken, though it was still nice to see Cink finally take home a major.
3. 2005 Masters- Winner: Tiger Woods
What many seem to forget during Woods’ current major struggles is that he went more than two years without a major victory, not winning any in 2003 or 2004 (about the same number of events as the current drought, since Woods has missed a few majors the last few years due to injury). The 2005 Masters signaled Woods’ return to dominance and it came with a vengeance. On Sunday morning, Woods made seven birdies in a row to storm to the lead. With a two-shot lead on the 16th hole, Woods hit maybe the best shot in Masters history (at least in the last 50 years), holing a seemingly impossible chip from behind the green. But he bogied the last two holes and fell into a playoff with pesky Chris DiMarco. Woods rolled in a birdie putt on the first playoff hole to win his fourth green jacket. I can almost still hear Verne Lundquist with his call on the 16th (OH. MY. GOODNESS. In your LIFE, have you seen anything like that?).
2. 2010 Masters- Winner: Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson plays golf with reckless abandon, or as I often say, like an idiot. Sometimes it backfires (The 2006 U.S. Open says hello), and sometimes it is genius. The 2010 Masters was the latter. Mickelson and Woods were in the mix all weekend, but as he has in all of his Masters wins, Mickelson made noise on the inward nine at Augusta to claim his third green jacket. His shot from the pine straw on the par-5 13th was nothing short of insane, but he pulled it off and had less than 10 feet for eagle. With his third Masters victory, Mickelson cemented his position as a golf legend.
1. 2008 U.S. Open- Winner: Tiger Woods
I don’ t know if it is possible to top the 2008 U.S. Open in terms of excitement and memorability. Woods entered the week injured, badly. In fact, his injuries were so bad that he could barely walk and winced after every shot. Doctors told him not to play and he famously told them “I am going to play in the U.S. Open and I am going to win.” He was right. Torrey Pines was a spectacular venue, and Woods’ Saturday charge was a thing of beauty, including two eagles and a chip-in birdie. But veteran and affable Rocco Mediate would not go away, and Lee Westwood was also hanging around on Sunday. Woods needed a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole to force an 18 hole playoff the next day with Mediate, and he made it (see above). Woods showed unbelievable toughness and clarity of mind (that he hasn’t since rediscovered) to win while in such clear pain. The 18-hole playoff the next day garnered huge ratings, despite the fact that it was on a work day. This event showed Woods’ pure willpower and leaves golf fans wondering if that level of play will ever return.