AS NIGHT FOLLOWS day so every April the television brings us Peter Alliss, with his mellifluously smug tones. This can only mean one thing: the US Masters is underway as the professional golf circuit cranks up a notch or five with the first of the four classic ‘Major’ tournaments.
To celebrate this opening starburst in golf’s firmament we thought that it would be rather fun to take a look at those men who, over the years, have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. With a major trophy and a fortune within sniffing distance they have stumbled as the tension and their opponents got into those precious five inches between their ears. We have all missed pressure putts or hit dire shots when in a position to win a match or a competition, but nothing, ever quite as knee tremblingly, brain mashingly awful as this:
At number 10: Scott Hoch. It did not help that the man from North Carolina has a name that rhymes with choke because in the 1989 US Masters that is precisely what he did. Having missed a very makeable putt on 18, he went into a play-off against Nick Faldo who on the first hole made bogey. Hoch had two putts for the Masters. He missed the second from 30” ending five feet past. Faldo sank a 25 footer to win on the next hole.
At nine: Sam Snead. It was a long, long time ago but still a great big choke from the parsimonious Snead who won 82 PGA events in his long career but never the US Open. In 1947 Slammin’ Sam had canned an 18-footer to squeeze into the playoff. Which is where history becomes a bit blurred. Snead was certainly two shots up with three to play against Lew Worsham but was all square coming to 18. Both were on in two and very close to the pin, with Snead no more than 30” away yet still first to putt. As Snead stood over his ball Worsham objected that it was not his turn to putt but after measurements were taken it was ruled that Snead was away. And you have guessed the rest; Worsham won the trophy after Snead’s miss although it has never been proved whether his was a desperate act of gamesmanship or a genuine concern for the rules of the game.
At eight: Thomas Bjorn. The man who drowned in Sandwich sand when two shots clear of the Open field with just three to play in 2003. One would not have expected someone based in Dubai to have so much trouble with a small patch of south coast sand but, having found a bunker on the right of the par three 16th, Bjorn took three more to get out. ‘I had one hand one the trophy and let it go,’ said the crestfallen Dane. Ben Curtis, who dropped four shots himself over the last six holes, was an unlikely winner of the old claret jug.
At number seven: Doug Sanders. Commentator Henry Longhurst said ‘It is simply a matter of merely controlling your nerve’ as the weary looking figure of Doug Sanders, clad all in mauve, walked onto the 18th green at St Andrews with a one shot lead in the 1970 Open. Needing just a par to win Sanders putted to within three feet and then stood, as if transfixed over his ball. Instead of rapping it he bent forward to brush some imaginary obstacle away before missing the hole to the right and lost to Jack Nicklaus in the play off. In 2000 Sanders said, ‘ These days I can go a full five minutes without thinking about it.’
In at six: Phil Mickelson. His response of ‘I just can’t believe I did that’ has not lasted as long as Sanders’s riposte, but Mickelson still blew the last round of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot in spectacular fashion. Looking for his third consecutive major, Mickelson stood on the 18th tee one shot ahead of Australian Geoff Ogilvy. His drive, a brutal slice, bounced off a hospitality tent miles left of the fairway ending in the spectator area. His second ricocheted back at him off a tree and from there he buried his third in a greenside bunker. Three shots later he was down, but also out, handing the trophy to Ogilvy.
As a footnote we should not forget that Colin Montgomerie also had a chance to win but bogeyed 18, failing to find the green with a seven iron.
At five: Rory McIlroy. Masters misery for the young Irishman in 2011 when we were all expecting to anoint a new golfing king. Four shots clear going into the final day, McIlroy went into full car crash mode, starting on the 10th. Into the trees from the tee he carded seven and fell from first to tied seventh in one cruel hole. And things did not get any better: he three putted 11 from five feet, which was one better than he did on the par three 12th where he four putted before limping home in 80.
In at four: Adam Scott. Scott, with the less than hugely popular Steve Williams on his bag, had opened his account at Royal Lytham in the 2012 Open with a 64. He was swinging sweetly right up to the 15th hole on the final day when, four shots clear, he imploded. A bunker on 15 was followed by a three feet miss on 16, before going long into hay on 17. On 18 he could have taken an iron or driver but went with a three wood and straight into a fairway pot bunker. Why did Williams allow him to go with a three wood was the popular response, but by then it was too late. Ernie Els had won.
At three: Greg Norman. Maybe playing with Nick Faldo does this to a man because, just as Hoch choked, Norman went into tailspin at Augusta in 1996. After a course record equalling 63 on the first day, he was six shots clear going into the last day and paired with Faldo. Later to claim that he was suffering from a bad back the Australian shot five bogeys and two double-bogeys for a 78 whilst the remorseless Faldo was round in 67 to pull on his third green jacket.
At two: the wet, wet Frenchman Jean Van de Velde and a watery demise at Carnoustie in 1999. Never having troubled the top of a leader board in a major championship Van de Velde needed a double bogey six at 18 to lift the claret jug. Four eight irons and two putts would have done it but the Frenchman went into the rough, the grandstand, a bunker and the water with a variety of clubs en route to his seven. He lost the play off to Paul Lawrie.
And at number one: the King himself, Arnold Palmer. Palmer started the final nine holes of the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club, San Francisco seven shots clear. Having won the trophy in 1960 having been seven shots behind he must have fancied his chances against his closest challenger Bill Casper. Casper went on a charge but Palmer was still five clear with four to play. But then he dropped two on 15, another two on 16 and bogeyed 17 and his lead had gone. Even in the playoff, Palmer was two ahead with eight to go, but dropped six more shots shooting 73 to Casper’s 69. Widely regarded as the greatest player in the world at the time Arnie had let collapsed not once but twice.
Enjoy watching the 2014 US Masters!