Our minds are like filing cabinets.
It doesn’t matter whether we are tasting a vintage wine for the first time, or we’ve just finished a terrific book, or we are marveling at some mountain vista, we rifle through our memory looking to compare just how great the experience was. Is it the best glass of wine we’ve ever consumed? The best book we’ve ever read? The most magnificent view we have ever witnessed? It’s the same thing with Bubba Watson’s great escape from the trees right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National Sunday, his terrific recovery shot that helped him win the Masters.
In the history of great shots that helped win major championships, where does Watson’s shot rank?
It’s brutal work, narrowing down spectacular plays in majors. There’s no avoiding leaving some grand shots off the list, but it makes for great debate at the 19th hole or the water cooler.
So, here’s our take:
1. Gene Sarazen’s double eagle at the 1935 Masters
Wow factor: A double eagle is rarer than a hole-in-one, so pulling off that shot in the final round of a Masters’ victory ranks as the most staggering feat in major championship history. It was called “the shot heard ‘round the world.”
The lowdown: Sarazen holed a 4-wood from 235 yards at Augusta National’s 15th hole, erasing a three-shot deficit with a single swing. Notably, he was playing alongside his rival, Walter Hagen. Sarazen went on that Sunday to defeat Craig Wood in a playoff.
2. Tom Watson’s chip-in at the 1982 U.S. Open
Wow factor: Given Watson was tied for the lead with Jack Nicklaus, who already was in the clubhouse, the combination of nerve and touch it took to hole out from the deep rough behind the 17th green that Sunday at Pebble Beach makes Watson’s shot the most clutch chip in major championship history.
The lowdown: Watson drilled a 2-iron over the 17th green into the deep grass just off the putting surface, sending a buzz through the galleries at Pebble Beach. The mistake made it look like Nicklaus would win. Watson had more than the thick rough to navigate. He had a slippery downhill patch of green. Caddie Bruce Edwards famously told Watson to “Get it close.” Watson, more famously, told him, “I’m gonna make it.” Watson did, rattling an improbable birdie off the flagstick on his way to winning.
3. Larry Mize’s chip-in at the 1987 Masters
Wow factor: Mize was the classic underdog, the hometown Augusta boy who used to work the Masters’ leaderboards in his youth. That Mize, winner of just one PGA Tour event to that date, would knock off two of the titans of the time, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman, in a playoff added to the fairy-tale appeal of his chip-in to win at the second playoff hole (No. 11).
The lowdown: With Ballesteros eliminated at the first playoff hole, Mize took down Norman a hole later, improbably holing a 140-foot chip with a sand wedge from right of the 11th green to win.
4. Ben Hogan’s 1-iron at the 1950 U.S. Open
Wow factor: The fact that Hogan limped his way around Merion just 16 months after he was nearly killed in a head-on collision with a bus magnifies the dramatic nature of the shot that helped him win the U.S. Open.
The lowdown: Needing a par at the 72nd hole, with a stiff wind in his face, Hogan plucked a 1-iron from his bag. A 1-iron was notoriously difficult to control, but Hogan carved a wondrous shot into the 18th green, setting up a two-putt par that got him into a playoff he would win against Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.
5. Bob Tway’s bunker shot at the 1986 PGA Championship
Wow factor: All tied with Greg Norman going to the 72nd hole at Inverness, Tway looked doomed flying his approach into the sand aside the 18th green. He faced a bunker shot onto a treacherously quick green that sloped away from him. The delicate nature of the play under pressure added to the stunning quality of the unexpected hole out.
The lowdown: Nestling his bunker shot to a landing spot just a foot onto the green, Tway watched his shot gently roll into the hole. The excitement turned him into a human pogo stick as he leaped up and down in that bunker. Norman missed his chip and chance to force a playoff, making Tway the first player in modern history to win the PGA Championship with a birdie at the 72nd hole.
6. Tiger Woods’ chip-in at the 2005 Masters
Wow factor: After pulling his approach long and left of the 16th green that Sunday at Augusta National, Woods looked like he was going to have trouble getting up and down for par. A birdie didn’t seem possible from there.
The lowdown: A shot ahead, Woods ignited an explosion around the 16th when he chipped up onto the swale that makes that green so difficult, his ball taking a circuitous route to one of the most unlikely chip-ins in major championship history. Woods needed that birdie as he finished with back-to-back bogeys but still prevailed against Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
7. Jerry Pate’s 5-iron at the 1976 U.S. Open
Wow factor: Just 22 years old, Pate needed all his brashness and confidence to pull off a difficult shot from 190 yards out, from the rough, over a lake. He delivered a shot that made veterans marvel.
The lowdown: With a one-shot lead, Pate just missed the 18th fairway with a drive to right. Under enormous pressure, Pate knew a 4-iron would cover the distance with his normal swing, but his caddie, John Considine, warned they were faced with a flyer lie. So Pate decided on a 5-iron, instead, and he delivered a straight and true shot over all that wet trouble to within 2 feet to set up a closing birdie and seal his victory. “It was the highest, softest flyer you’ve ever seen,” Pate said.
8. Shaun Micheel’s 7-iron at the 2003 PGA Championship
Wow factor: A relative unknown, there were plenty of doubts whether Micheel could close the deal as he headed to the 18th hole that Sunday at Oak Hill. Nicklaus, Hogan or Woods couldn’t have delivered a better answer with a final full shot to win the PGA Championship.
The lowdown: With a one-shot lead on Chad Campbell, Micheel missed the 18th fairway left, but from 175 yards out, he put the surest pass on a 7-iron he could muster, carving his approach shot to 2 inches to set up a closing birdie and claim the victory.
9. Phil Mickelson’s 6-iron at the 2010 Masters
Wow factor: Mickelson took a risky play at the 13th hole on that Sunday that could have made him repeat the line he uttered after blowing a shot off a hospitality tent to the lose the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006: “I’m such an idiot,” he said in Winged Foot’s aftermath. Instead, Mickelson showed his genius.
The lowdown: It may not have been the high percentage shot, or the smartest shot, but it was a great shot. From the trees right of the 13th fairway, from 207 yards off pine straw, Mickelson threaded a narrow gap between a pair of trees to hit the green and set up a two-putt birdie that gave him the confidence and momentum he needed to finish off his victory there.
10. Bubba Watson’s gap wedge at the 2012 Masters
Wow factor: Under pressure at the second hole of a playoff, Watson shaped a shot around the trees that would have made Seve Ballesteros’ proud. Watson orchestrated one of the great escapes in major championship history to set up his victory.
The lowdown: After pulling his tee shot right and into the trees along the 10th fairway, Watson’s imagination became the 15th club in his bag. From 155 yards out, he used all his creative powers, slinging a hard hook with a gap wedge around the trees to within 10 feet of the flagstick for a two-putt par to defeat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff. Watson had to keep the shot low, until it cleared one tree line, then watched it bend and rise to Masters’ fame.