The Best Shots in Masters History
From pressure putts to miraculous birdies, Ben Winstanley takes a trip down Masters memory lane to discover the shots that won the most iconic Major championship. How will this year’s crop compare?
- By Ben Winstanley -
All the best golfers in the world are optimists: they are problem solvers and chess players, out-the-box thinkers and risk takers, artists and dreamers. If golf is always but one shot from greatness, no course on the planet better asks its combatants to believe than Augusta National, home of The Masters. Since 1934, it has played host to some of the greatest sporting moments known to man. These are some of our favourites:
2017: Sergio Garcia
On the long list of golfers never to have won a Major, Sergio Garcia was easily the most gifted. In spite of 12 top-five finishes, including four second-place performances, the Spaniard had never risen to the top of the field at a Major championship – and some feared he never would. That is until the 2017 Masters.
Leading after three rounds, he held his nerve as playing partner Justin Rose applied the pressure and took the lead around the turn. We’d seen it before, hadn’t we? The glorious failure. Not this time. Garcia rallied: a miracle par save at 13 after finding trouble off the tee was followed by a momentum-shifting birdie at 14. And then Garcia conquered his fears.
Among the doubt and memories of foiled victories, he hit the best shot of his life into the par-five 15th [5:54 on the video above] 177 yards out with an eight iron, he almost slam-dunked the ball into the cup. The ball would rattle the flagstick and ricochet to 15 feet, from which Garcia sank a precious eagle – his first in 452 holes at The Masters.
Rose and Garcia would go to sudden death, where the Spaniard emerged victorious after draining a 12-feet birdie putt on the second playoff hole. Major success was finally his.
2012: Bubba Watson
10th hole (playoff)
There is no golfer, living or dead, quite like Bubba Watson. The self-taught lefthander has a bazooka for a driver, shapes the ball with extreme curvature, and delivers shots that somehow bend the laws of physics.
He is, unquestionably, one of the most exciting players on the planet to watch, but Masters champion? Few would have imagined he had the consistency to win a Green Jacket. Yet, on the Sunday of the 2012 Masters he made four consecutive birdies on the back nine to force a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen.
At the second sudden-death hole, Watson looked to have scuppered his chances of victory when he hooked his drive into the bushes right of the 10th fairway. But the golfing magician was undeterred. After all, his mantra has always been, “If I have a swing, I’ve got a shot.”
Bubba Watson would seal victory with the most miraculous par save Augusta National had ever seen
He found a narrow clearing among the Magnolias and Carolina trees and, 52-degree gap wedge in hand, threaded his approach between the branches before somehow making the ball turn 90 degrees sharp right. To coax the ball out of an all-but-irrecoverable position is one thing, but then to miraculously spin it to within ten feet of the hole is quite another.
Bubba – the Floridian maverick with a pink driver and a convention-challenging swing – would seal victory with one of the most miraculous par saves Augusta had ever seen.
2005: Tiger Woods
It’s been called the greatest golf shot of all time, to others it is simply ‘The Chip’, but during the 2005 Masters the genius of Tiger Woods was confirmed when he manufactured an utterly impossible chip-in birdie at the par-three 16th.
It’s the final round, Woods leads by one from a charging Chris DiMarco. Uncharacteristically, Woods is having an up-and-down Sunday – epitomised by a poor iron shot at the 16th that flies down a steep bank. It leaves him with a testing chip to set up a par putt.
Looking back over the TV footage, Tiger only has thing in mind: you can see him pick his mark at the top of the ridge and visualise how the ball is going to react once it hits the slope. He sees birdie opportunity where others would have seen the potential for disaster.
The shot required precision, distance control, and just a bit of luck – and it gets all three. The ball skips three times up the inclined portion of the green before it starts to roll, and takes a sharp right turn downhill towards the hole. About six feet out, it finds the final break required to line it up with the cup… and then it stops on the edge. It hangs for what feels like an eternity, the Nike tick perfectly centred in the shot like a TV commercial, before it collapses into the hole with one final revolution.
On Sunday 10 April 2005 Tiger Woods won his fourth Green Jacket and became a golfing deity
That Woods would bogey the final two holes of the round, and require a playoff to beat DiMarco is neither here nor there. Sunday 10 April 2005 was the day Woods won his fourth Green Jacket, his ninth of 14 Major championships, and became a golfing deity.
2004: Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson was a 22-time winner on the PGA Tour coming into the 2004 Masters, but was yet to win a Major in his 12-year pro career. That all changed in spectacular fashion during the 68th Masters tournament.
Heading into Sunday, the left hander had a share of the lead but fell off the pace as he made the turn at two-over par. Meanwhile, Ernie Els, who started the day three shots off the lead, was enjoying a round to remember: eagles at the 8th and 13th, followed by a birdie at the 15th saw the South African put one hand on the Green Jacket.
However, there’s a reason they call Mickelson ‘Phil the Thrill’. Birdies at 12, 13, 14 and 16 saw the California native drag himself level with Els – and, as is so often the case at Augusta National, it all came down to the 72nd hole.
After Els made par, the focus shifted to Mickelson, weighing up a slippery 18-feet birdie putt, to snatch victory at the last. The crowd rose to their feet as the ball left the putter face, coiling right to left towards the hole. It grabbed the right lip of the hole before plummeting into the darkness for one of the most sensational pressure putts in Masters history.
1997: Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods may have turned pro in August 1996, but that didn’t stop the 21 year old arriving at the 1997 Masters as the red-hot favourite.
In his rookie season, he had accrued three victories in 14 starts, was the longest hitter on Tour by 25 yards, and had already proven his prodigious talent in and around the green: golf had found the complete player, and in a flurry of 270 sensational shots he was about to change the world of golf for good.
During that fateful week, Woods decimated the field to win by the widest margin of victory ever seen at The Masters (12 shots) with the lowest cumulative score in history (18 under), as well as becoming the youngest person to don the Green Jacket and the first non-white player to do so. We now know that Woods is a once-in-a-generation competitor, but in 1997 Augusta could scarcely believe what it had witnessed.
Strangely, it often goes unmentioned that Woods was four-over par for the front nine of the opening round. The turning point? A delicate bump-and-run chip at the par-three 12th.
Woods sent his tee shot long, and found himself in fluffy rough facing a tricky downhill chip towards the water: a mistake here could have finished his record-breaking tournament before it even began but instead the player stepped up and sank the chip for birdie.
Nick Faldo, six-time Major winner and Woods’ playing partner that day, speaks of that moment in no uncertain terms: “That was the last time any of us were close to Tiger for 12 years.” Sometimes, the most important shots aren’t always the ones we’re quick to remember…
1988: Sandy Lyle
You couldn’t write it any better. Sandy Lyle in the sand on the 72nd hole of the 1988 Masters, and he produces perhaps the most important bunker shot in tournament history to become the first British golfer to win a Green Jacket.
Needing a birdie to win the tournament outright, Lyle hit a perfect seven iron without disturbing a single grain of sand before the ball sailed towards the green, caught the downslope and came to rest less than ten feet from the hole. Lyle made the putt, and consigned his name to Masters folklore.
Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros spoke of Lyle as “the greatest God-given talent in history. If everyone in the world was playing their best, Sandy would win – and I’d come second.”
Few players on the planet could have conjured a shot of that quality in the pressure of the moment, but Lyle was not to be denied. He duly walked onto the green and drained the putt that changed British fortunes at The Masters.
1987: Larry Mize
11th hole (playoff)
When Larry Mize made it into a three-way playoff for the 1987 Masters, it’s fair to say that nobody gave the Augusta native a chance. Here was a 28-year-old local boy, boasting just the one victory on the PGA Tour, taking on two Hall of Famers in Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros; his loss would be valiant, if inevitable. But then, there’s a reason golfers believe in fairy tales.
Mize, a former scoreboard operator at The Masters, saw off Ballesteros in the first playoff hole before producing one of the most outrageous shots in Masters history to deny Norman victory. On the par-four 11th hole (the second in the playoff), Mize sprayed his approach right of the green as his Australian competitor found the putting surface.
Staring down a 30-yard chip, with bunkers and water lurking behind, par would be a good score, but Mize’s bump-and-run bounded up to the green, caught the slope perfectly and tracked straight into the hole for birdie.
The 1987 Masters is surely one of golf’s greatest triumphs of David over Goliath
Augusta erupted: Mize danced along the fairway in unbridled revelry, the crowd whooped and hollered in disbelief, and a dejected Norman cut a lonely figure as his lengthy birdie putt failed to take the playoff any further. Mize might not be a household name, but his 1987 Masters victory is surely one of golf’s greatest triumphs of David over Goliath.
1986: Jack Nicklaus
The 50th Masters tournament in 1986 remains one of the greatest sporting moments in history. An ageing Jack Nicklaus – 46 years, two months and 23 days old, to be exact – rolled the years back to produce one of the most scintillating golfing comebacks ever witnessed.
Beginning the final round four shots off the lead, birdies at the 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th thrust Nicklaus firmly into contention, but it wasn’t until he blitzed a four iron to 12 feet at the par-five 15th that the crowd truly believed something special was on the cards.
Nicklaus would make eagle, but it was the tee shot on the following 16th hole that is remembered as the best of a brilliant bunch.
The golf legend may never have struck a better 5-iron in his life: “Be right,” his son and caddy Jackie said. “It is,” Nicklaus replied, reaching down for his tee just as the ball spun to within three feet of the hole to set up birdie.
As the Golden Bear stalked his prey, his nearest rivals faltered: Ballesteros dumped his second shot into the water at the 15th, Norman bogeyed the 18th and Tom Kite missed a birdie putt on the same hole by inches. It was up to Nicklaus, last man standing, to slide in a decisive downhill birdie putt at the 17th to come away victorious.
The rest, as they say, is history: a final round 65, Jack’s sixth Green Jacket, and an unmatched 18th professional Major. There’s life in the old Bear yet.
1984: Ben Crenshaw
Ask any professional golfer to name the greatest putter of all time and they’ll tell you about Ben Crenshaw. Armed with his trusty Wilson 8802 blade putter, affectionately nicknamed ‘Little Ben’, the gentle Texan tamed Augusta’s lightning-fast greens better than anyone throughout his storied career – capturing the low amateur title twice, finishing runner-up twice as a professional, and taking home the Green Jacket on two separate occasions.
During his first Masters victory in 1984, Crenshaw produced moments of utter sorcery, but he left the best until the final round when he drained a monstrous 65-feet birdie putt on the tricky 10th hole; the ball snaking right to left before greeting the hole like a long-lost friend.
Crenshaw carried the momentum through the back nine, making birdies at 12 and 15 to finish with a four-under 68 – good enough for a two-shot victory. How fitting that the game’s greatest putter should win his first Major with one of the game’s greatest putts.