Like Forrest Gump's mother always told him, major championships are like a box of chocolates ... you never know what you are going to get. So in honor of this week's playing of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, our writers offer up their personal favorite major championships.
By RANDALL MELL
Filing back through the 46 major championships I’ve been fortunate to cover, and the countless majors I’ve watched on television, here are my picks:
Masters: It would be nice to be able to say Jack Nicklaus winning in ‘86, but I sheepishly confess I may be the only golf follower alive my age who didn’t actually see a single shot of the Golden Bear’s win live, or at least on live TV. I have to go with Tiger Woods’ record 12-shot romp in ‘97. It was the first Masters I ever covered.
U.S. Open: Standing behind the 18th green at Pinehurst on that drizzly Sunday in '99, I marveled watching Payne Stewart make a final 15-foot putt for par to win. You could feel his elation but admired the tenderness he showed Phil Mickelson with Lefty losing practically on the eve of becoming a father for the first time. Stewart’s unexpected death four months later adds to the weight of the memory.
British Open: It wasn’t the best played, for sure, but Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in '99 was as compelling theater as you’ve ever seen in golf. Theater of the absurd, perhaps, but a most unforgettable finish with Paul Lawrie prevailing in a playoff.
PGA Championship: Sitting behind the 18th green on late Sunday afternoon in 2000, I had a look right down the line as Woods putted from 6 nerve-racking feet to try to force a playoff with Bob May at Valhalla. It's still stupefying remembering how many spike marks Woods’ putt bounced over and yet somehow found the hole. It felt like he willed that tricky downhill putt into the hole to set up his playoff victory.
By JASON SOBEL
Well, I’m not quite as – how shall I put this? – “experienced” as some of my more veteran colleagues, so please excuse the relative newness of my favorite major championships that I’ve attended, as I’ve only been covering ‘em since the turn of the century.
For the Masters, I’m going with super-newness in last year’s edition of the event. I know Phil Mickelson’s first was one to remember, and I can still feel the goosebumps from Tiger Woods’ ball trickling in on 16 back in 2005. But I defy you to pop in a DVD of last year’s tournament – from Rory McIlroy pulling one into the cabins on No. 10 through a roller-coaster back-nine that included a myriad of leaders – and be able to walk away even for a few seconds to grab a bag of Doritos. Charl Schwartzel’s name isn’t the sexiest on the winner’s list, but that final round was as dramatic as you’ll ever see.
I never thought I’d witness a cooler U.S. Open than my first one in 2000, when Tiger obliterated the field. Then I went to the 2002 version at Bethpage – near where I spent my childhood – and had a blast covering the event through the eyes of the raucous fans. Each of those was surpassed, though, in 2008, when a perfect storm swirled around Torrey Pines, with the game’s biggest superstar (Woods) with a variety of injuries (torn ACL, fractured leg) defeating a lovable challenger (Rocco Mediate) in a sudden-death playoff (18 holes weren’t enough) at a beautiful locale (it doesn’t get much more scenic than Torrey, Pebble Beach notwithstanding).
My pick for the Open Championship is more for what almost happened than what did, but it was still amongst the most memorable majors we’ll ever witness. Had 59-year-old Tom Watson been able to get up and down from behind the 18th green at Turnberry, this one would have gone down in history as the most improbable of all tournaments. Instead, Watson missed his par attempt, then saw his effort thwarted by Stewart Cink in a playoff. I’ll always remember him walking into the interview room afterward, looking out at the forlorn faces of the awaiting media throng and saying, “This ain’t a funeral, you know.”
Call me obtuse, but my favorite PGA Championship occurred just one month later. Even casual fans could recite Tiger’s major record with a 54-hole lead by heart: 14-for-14. As in, 100 percent. He’d never lost one on a Sunday afternoon, and it didn’t seem likely that would happen at Hazeltine, either, especially with relatively little-known journeyman Y.E. Yang in hot pursuit. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Woods played conservative golf, while his opponent aimed for the flagsticks with nothing to lose. The result was a scene that no one before had witnessed – Woods turning a Sunday morning lead into a loss at a major.
By REX HOGGARD
In particular order, the 1986 Masters is the runaway “Best in Show” when grading the Grand Slams. At 46-years-young, two seasons removed from his last PGA Tour title and six years adrift of his last major, the Golden Bear played his last four holes in 4 under to win his 18th major and sixth green jacket.
Tiger Woods, fittingly, wins the second leg with his one-legged victory at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Playing on a broken leg and with a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament, Woods finished his third round birdie-eagle and forced an 18-hole playoff, which he won over Rocco Mediate with a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole.
John Daly’s Cinderella ride at the 1991 PGA Championship easily qualifies as the best story from “Glory’s Last Shot.” A last-minute alternate who had to drive all night just to make his first-round tee time emerges as an unlikely champion. He may not have been the most memorable major champion, but there are few stories in golf that are more inspiring.
Finally, it is Jean Van de Velde . . . eh, Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open. Sure, the Scot won the claret jug, but it was the Frenchman knee deep in the burn that will always define that bizarre week at Carnoustie.
By RYAN LAVNER
2012 Masters: Freddie Couples in contention at the midway point. King Louie Oosthuizen’s albatross in the final round. Then Bubba Watson’s miraculous shot from the pine straw – and then the waterworks on the 10th green. Gee, this wasn’t a bad first Masters to cover.
2008 U.S. Open: This major, perhaps more than any of his other 13, will define Woods’ legacy. At Torrey Pines he was playing on a broken leg, writhing in pain after every shot . . . and he still won the most demanding test in golf! I called in sick at work that Monday, too, for the unlikely playoff with Rocco. My boss knew the reason.
2002 British Open: Ernie Els won the tournament, of course, but this Open, at least for me, kick-started my fascination with golf’s oldest tournament. The weather was the big winner, remember. Tiger was blown away during a Saturday 81. It was a battle of attrition. I enjoy watching that type of golf . . . well, once a year.
2011 PGA Championship: The playoff may not go down in tournament lore, but it was a compelling final hour in regulation. It was a stark juxtaposition: Jason Dufner free-falling, major-rookie Keegan Bradley surging. It ended with Bradley in the parking lot, packing up his courtesy car, alone, and marveling, “Can you believe that?"
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