10 Heart-Wrenching Chokes at The Masters
By Brooks Hays
Of all the majors, The Masters gives golfers the greatest shot at low scores. It's inviting, but Augusta is also a temptress—having scorned many astute veterans and hapless newbies. Below are ten of the worst train wrecks and stumbles to ever happen at Augusta National.
1. Rory McIlroy: 2011
In 2011, Rory McIlroy took a four-stroke lead into the final round on Sunday at Augusta. But his hopes of becoming the youngest-ever Green Jacket owner were dashed when he sprayed his drive deep into the woods on the 10th, making a triple, and then proceeded to four-putt 12 and put his tee ball in Rae’s Creek on the 13th. McIlroy didn't sulk for long, though; two months later he lapped the field at the U.S. Open, winning his first major.
2. Greg Norman: 1986, 1987, and 1996
Greg Norman blundered at The Masters on three separate occasions. In 1986, Norman made a Sunday charge, stringing together six birdies to tie the lead heading to the final tee box. It was not to be. Norman found the 18th fairway, but pushed his approach into the gallery, finishing his day with a bogey and a 2nd place finish. Ten years later, The Shark blew a six-shot lead on Sunday, a Masters record.
But his most famous collapse of all came in 1987, when Norman squandered a Sunday lead and lost in sudden death in heartbreaking fashion. On the second hole of the playoff, Larry Mize, an Augusta native, chipped in from the right side of the 11th green, holing-out from a spot where most professionals tremble at the prospects of getting up and down.
3. Scott Hoch: 1989
In 1989, Scott Hoch went into a sudden death playoff with Nick Faldo. On the first extra hole, the 10th, Faldo limped his way to a bogey five. Hoch sat on the green with a birdie putt and a chance to two-putt his way to a Masters victory. He rolled his birdie to just outside from two feet away, then missed the comeback putt for par before going on to lose on the next hole.
4. Tom Weiskopf: 1980
Weiskopf in '95
Tom Weiskopf won the British Open in 1973, but his long and impressive career is mostly remembered—fairly or unfairly—for near-misses and blunders. One of the most infamous happened in 1980 at Amen Corner's par three 12th, where Weiskopf, doing his best Tin Cup impression, dunked nearly a half-dozen in the water before carding a 13.
5. Ed Sneed: 1979
Ed Sneed had 45 career top-10 finishes on the PGA tour and seven professional wins, but he never a won a major. In 1979 at Augusta, Sneed came close but choked away a five-stroke lead on Sunday. Even after a so-so showing on the first 15 holes, he was still up three with three to play. He bogeyed his way home and faltered in a playoff where he was put out of his misery by Fuzzy Zoeller.
6. Tsuneyuki "Tommy" Nakajima: 1978
Nakajima in '96
At the 1978 Masters, Tsuneyuki "Tommy" Nakajima—one of the greatest Japanese golfers of all time—did what so many have done and ended his chances at a Green Jacket by putting a ball in Rae's Creek at the par five 13th. But instead of taking a drop, Nakajima elected to play the ball as it lay. Splashing down with his club, the ball plopped up onto his foot for a two-stroke penalty. He went on to tally a 13.
7. Roberto De Vicenzo: 1968
De Vicenzo in '67
In 1968, Roberto De Vicenzo, one of the greatest Argentine golfers of all time, was trying to follow up his '67 British Open title with a Green Jacket. On Sunday at Augusta, De Vicenzo carded a 65, good enough for a playoff—until it wasn't. The Argentine's signed scorecard incorrectly had him down for par on the 17th when he had actually birdied the hole. Under the Rules of Golf, crediting yourself with a score lower than the actual tally warrants disqualification. If you accidentally give yourself a bigger number, then the higher score stands. De Vincenzo's 65 became a 66 and he was out of a playoff and into 2nd place. Maybe the saddest choke in Masters history, the heartbreak led De Vicenzo to famously say in his broken English, "What a stupid I am."
8. Arnold Palmer: 1961
Even the King occasionally crumbles under pressure. In 1961, Arnold Palmer came to the last hole on Sunday with a one-shot lead over Gary Player. But his approach to the 18th flew the green and settled in a back bunker. Palmer, in a rare moment of weakness, thumped his sand shot back across the green and down the front slope. He could still get it up and down to force a playoff but Palmer, rattled, chipped to 15 feet and subsequently missed his bogey putt, gifting Player the first of his three Green Jackets.
9. Ken Venturi: 1956
Venturi in '67
Attempting to become the first and only amateur to ever win The Masters, Ken Venturi entered Sunday of the 1956 Masters in a comfortable lead. But Sunday at Augusta is never comfortable, and Venturi relinquished his four-shot lead by three-putting six times. He carded an 80 and finished second.
10. Ben Hogan: 1946
Hogan in '40
No one is sacred at Augusta National—not even the man with a golf swing gifted from the heavens. In 1946, Ben Hogan came to the 18th tee tied for the lead. After a fairway and a green-in-regulation, The Hawk was left with a 12-foot birdie for the win. He missed. He then missed a two-footer that would have forced a playoff. The three-putt bogey gave Herman Keiser an upset victory.
All photos via Getty Images.