The top 10 greatest shots to win a major

By Randall MellApril 11, 2012, 7:10 pm

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.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).