Top 6 Masters Tournaments
Things have changed a bit since ’92, but not by a whole lot, which is one reason I hold the Masters in such high regard. Not every gathering at Augusta National has been fabulous from a competitive standpoint, but more often than not, the club gets everything right, which leads to premium levels of suspense and big-game performance. Here are my six best Masters over the last two decades. I was going to include a few clunkers, but then, common sense prevailed. There is no such thing as a bad Masters.
6. 1996 – We begin, quite ironically, with one of the darkest dramas in golf history. Lost in the wreckage of Greg Norman’s epic Sunday collapse is that Nick Faldo won by five, not just by a whisker. Fifteen years later, Norman’s six-stroke edge at the start of the day remains the largest blown 54-hole lead in PGA Tour history, a generation-defining loss that taught us the difference between heartbreak and a horror show. A setting orange sun and funereal atmosphere around the 18th green serve as everlasting memories. To this day, golf fans talk about Norman’s slow-motion plunge with pained facial expressions.
It was gruesome, it was unjust, but the ’96 Masters was one of the most significant ever played. Two of the game’s giants had their reputations amplified to an extreme that afternoon, and in getting to know Norman pretty well since, I believe the loss basically destroyed his golfing will – his competitive passion and inside-the-ropes intensity. Tiger Woods won by 12 the next year, and man, that was all she wrote.
5. 1995 – Ben Crenshaw is the most right-brain pro golfer I’ve ever met, a lot more artistically inclined and emotionally connected than the rest. His second Masters triumph is excellent proof of that trait, as Crenshaw arrived at Augusta National straight from the funeral of his longtime mentor, Harvey Penick, with his swing in tatters. Five minutes on the range with his caddie, Carl Jackson, was all it took to fix things. When you’re golf’s accidental genius, you don’t ask why.
On a Sunday leaderboard stacked with stars, Davis Love III had the best chance to catch Gentle Ben, but the sunny side of fate wasn’t about to let that happen. More than in most sports, golf’s deepest storylines are donated by the losers. It’s a tough game. Stuff happens. The ’95 Masters, however, was the ultimate feelgood. To think that we went from Crenshaw’s not-a-dry-eye high to Norman’s mega-downer spells out the potency of the magic made at Augusta National. Home of the Unvarnished Memory.
4. 2010 – After three consecutive lackluster Masters, last year’s affair brought the old ball yard back to life. Phil Mickelson claimed the green jacket for a third time, beating Lee Westwood, and though Woods didn’t seriously threaten, he did finish T-4 in his first post-hydrant start. When Phil hugged Amy, his cancer-stricken wife, not long after Tiger dropped the smug attitude on Peter Kostis in his brief post-round interview, all seemed right with the world.
Beyond that, however, was the 6-iron Mickelson threaded between a pair of adjoining tree trunks on the par-5 13th, a second shot from 206 yards that stopped 4 feet from the hole. If Philly Mick makes the eagle putt, you can make a case that it was the greatest shot in Masters history. He didn’t, which leaves me to wonder if it should even rank ahead of Tiger’s lucky hole-out chip from behind the 16th green in 2005. By the sum of its parts, however, 2010 was fabulous.
3. 1998 – A poor man’s version of 1975, so to speak, with Mark O’Meara holing an 18-foot birdie putt at the last to beat Fred Couples and David Duval by a stroke. Any three-man duel full of superb shot making is worth savoring, but when it happens at a major championship, the suspense becomes intoxicating. Adding to the plot in ’98 was one final display of brilliance by Jack Nicklaus, who finished T-6 at the age of 58. When the Golden Bear began the final round with a surge up the leaderboard, the mid-afternoon roars at Augusta National were among the loudest I’ve ever heard.
Nicklaus would get to within two strokes of the lead after a birdie at the seventh. Duval made up six strokes on Couples from the ninth to the 13th and led O’Meara by three with five holes to play, but O’Meara birdied Nos. 15, 17 and 18. That glorious Sunday, and all the sharp turns of momentum, provide a stellar example as to why the Masters is the best golf tournament on earth. Don’t get up to use the bathroom. You might miss something.
2. 1997 – It was over before sunset Friday, once Woods had taken a three-stroke lead and began planning his 36-hole victory march. That he won by 12 at the age of 21 in his first Masters as a pro, hitting 9-irons into par 5s and utterly demolishing the field – we’re talking about a degree of dominance no one had ever seen by a kid barely old enough to drink. Never mind the historical value. What Tiger did that week was as close to impossible as reality will allow, a landmark performance with stupefying implications. To think that he did it again three years later at the U.S. Open only makes the ’97 Masters seem more magnificent. Fluke, anyone?
1. 2004 – Quite simply the best golf tournament I have ever covered. Mickelson’s first Masters title was made possible by one of the finest finishing kicks in the tournament’s history: five birdies on the last seven holes to edge Els, who eagled the 13th to take a three-stroke lead, parred in and still didn’t make a playoff. There were back-to-back aces at the 16th and K.J. Choi’s hole-out for eagle at the 11th, but in retrospect, they were merely a warm-up act during a two-hour display of fireworks every bit as dramatic as the closing stages in 1986.
That Masters remains the best ever because Nicklaus won it, but for Mickelson, who was infamously major-less before the ’04 breakthrough, beating Els with a furious rally totally redefined him as a player. For all the prior near-misses, he could not have vindicated himself better, and while picking up three more major titles since, he has emerged as one of the best golfers ever. He’ll never catch Woods, but Philly Mick is the people’s favorite. In April 2004, he finally gave everyone reason to believe.
Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys
After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.
There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.
It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.
“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.
In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.
Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”
Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.
“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.
Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.
If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.
For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.
Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.
Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.
While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.
When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?
Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.
After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.
The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.
That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.
The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.
While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.
Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.
Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.
“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.
Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain
The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.
Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.
"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."
Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.
Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.
Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.