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Punch Shot: Best major of the decade (so far)

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Rory McIlroy won a thriller at Valhalla, site of the 96th PGA Championship. It was the most exciting major of the season but was it the best of this decade? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their favorite majors over the last five years.

By RYAN LAVNER

There have been more dramatic finales, like the 2011 Masters or the recently completed PGA. There have been better four-round individual performances, like Rory McIlroy's tour de force at the 2011 U.S. Open. But for the best major - the best winner, the most intrigue, the sweetest setting -- the answer is the 2013 Open Championship, when Phil Mickelson surprised everyone, even himself, in capturing the claret jug.

The major had everything. Most importantly, it had all of the bold-faced players in place, with Lee Westwood leading through 54 holes, Tiger Woods two back, Adam Scott lurking, Henrik Stenson in the hunt, too. Five back was Mickelson, who for years had been befuddled by links golf. But on Sunday, he closed with a flawless 66 - including a riveting finishing kick - that ranks among the best major rounds, ever. That all of the drama played out over the links at Muirfield, the best course in the Open rota, only added to the major's majesty. 


By JASON SOBEL

Among my personal finalists for this honor were last year's Open Championship and last week's PGA Championship, but the 2011 Masters is my winner.

Ask me again in a few minutes, though, and I reserve the right to change my mind.

That year's Masters featured eight different players holding at least a share of the lead in the final round. It was frenzied action from start to finish, with Charl Schwartzel surviving as the last man standing.

I still maintain that if Schwartzel's closing stretch of birdies on his last four holes came from a more heralded star – oh, say one named Tiger or Phil – it would be hailed as one of the greatest feats in Masters history. It still is, but too often gets overlooked.

Were the other majors I mentioned just as dramatic? Maybe. But neither one of them was played on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. To me, that was the deciding dynamic.


By REX HOGGARD

The best major of this decade may go down as the best-ever for the 20 million or so Australians who tuned in early Monday morning on April 15, 2013, to watch Adam Scott end the country’s Masters drought.

No tournament inspired as much nostalgia or handwringing for an Australian than the Masters, an anxiety fueled by Greg Norman’s assorted near-misses and heartbreaks at Augusta National.

But that collective curse ended last spring when Scott played his last six holes in regulation in 3 under par and calmly rolled in a 12 footer for birdie on the second extra hole to beat Angel Cabrera and end Australia’s 76-year drought in the year’s first major.

But if the subtext of becoming the first player from Down Under to slip his arms into a green jacket wasn’t compelling enough, Augusta National’s closing nine delivered the coup de grâce that separates the ’13 Masters from all other majors this decade.

In order, Jason Day birdied three consecutive holes on the closing loop to make his claim for his first major only to bogey Nos. 16 and 17 and finish two back, while Tiger Woods made arguably his best run at major No. 15 with a closing 70 to finish tied for seventh.

In short, the ’13 Masters had it all.


By RANDALL MELL

Adam Scott's victory at the 2013 Masters gave us a few goosebump moments. His birdie at the 72nd hole looked like it would seal this feel-good story. At 32, this former prodigy looked like he was finally going to shake all the disappointments in his mediocre major championship history and become the first Australian to win a green jacket. The story got better when Angel Cabrera stormed in behind Scott with a terrific closing birdie of his own, extending the high drama to a sudden-death playoff that Scott won with a birdie at the second extra hole. 

For those who thought Scott too soft to win a major, he delivered a tough-guy performance. His collapse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes at the British Open the summer before could have spawned a legion of demon doubts. If he had them, he slayed them at Augusta National.


By WILL GRAY

Watching the chaos this past weekend at Valhalla evoked memories of the 2011 Masters, when a number of players had one arm into the green jacket before Charl Schwartzel took the title with an unprecedented run of four birdies to close his final round. A total of eight – eight! – players held at least a share of the lead on Sunday. At one point on the back nine, there was a five-way tie at the top.

The tournament may be better remembered for the collapse of 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy, but Schwartzel’s victory deserves recognition. If a bigger name had won (say, Adam Scott, who tied for second), it would probably rank higher on most lists. For my money, though, nothing beats a group of challengers trading birdies down the stretch at Augusta National, which the 2011 edition delivered in spades.