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AT&T Byron Nelson: Memorable moments
We look back at 10 of the most memorable moments in the history of the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Anytime anyone goes up against Arnold Palmer, the gallery is going to side with Arnie. Even if you’re Jack Nicklaus. So when the two greats went head to head in the 36-hole Sunday finish, Nicklaus knew he was playing against Palmer, the course and the crowd. They tied at 274, then Nicklaus made short work of the playoff, making a tap-in birdie on the first extra hole. Afterwards, Nicklaus was told that Vice President Spiro Agnew was on the phone with congratulations. But when Nicklaus picked up the phone, an operator told him Agnew wanted to talk to Palmer.
Peter Thomson’s claim to fame is winning five Open Championships in the 1950s and ’60s. He is the only man in the 20th or 21st century to win the tournament three years in a row (1954-56). The Australian was an infrequent competitor on the PGA Tour, winning only once in the U.S. That was the 1956 Texas International, when he closed with a 63 to get into a playoff, then birdied the second extra hole to defeat Gene Littler and Dr. Cary Middlecoff.
Given that Tom Watson was a disciple of Byron Nelson, it was only fitting that Watson should dominate Nelson’s tournament in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Watson won in 1975, then again in 1978, ’79 and ’80. He almost won for a fourth consecutive time in 1981, but lost to Bruce Lietzke in a playoff. Watson’s streak ended with a fizzle, as he three-putted the first extra hole. “I went head to head with the best golfer in the world today … and beat him at his own game,” Lietzke said. “But we did not see the real Tom Watson today.”
Bob Eastwood made a 45-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, but didn’t expect it to give him a chance to win the tournament. Playing in the group behind Eastwood, Payne Stewart led by two shots but made a double bogey. In the sudden death playoff Stewart made another double bogey, allowing Eastwood to win with a bogey. Afterward, a dejected Stewart was seen walking off into a field with his wife, Tracey. “That was the toughest loss of them all,” Stewart said later. “It was hard to believe it had happened.”
You might think a six-man sudden-death playoff would last a few holes. But this one, the first such playoff on the PGA Tour, went only one extra hole. Neal Lancaster made a birdie to defeat Tom Byrum, Mark Carnevale, David Edwards, Yoshi Mizumaki and David Ogrin for his only PGA Tour win. How did six players end up tied after regulation? They didn’t. The tournament was reduced to 36 holes by weather, and they were the leaders at the time.
Of all the records Tiger Woods set on the PGA Tour, the most impressive might be his streak of 142 consecutive events played without a missed cut. He raced well past the previous mark of 113, set by Nelson in the 1940s. And Woods’ streak ended, appropriately, at Nelson’s tournament. Needing a par on the final hole to make the cut on the number, Woods was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker. With the streak over, the mantle of longest active cuts-made streak was passed to Ernie Els. His number? Twenty.
Scott Verplank grew up in Dallas, where as a teenager he got to know Byron Nelson. So playing in the first Byron Nelson Championship after Nelson’s death was an emotional experience for Verplank. And winning put it off the emotional chart. “There’s no question in my mind that the stars lined up and I got a little help from upstairs,” Verplank said.
The Dallas-area PGA Tour stop was first played in 1944 as the Texas Victory Open. It continued for two more years, but wasn’t played again until 1956. That year Don January, a local resident who had played in the 1945 tournament as a 15-year-old amateur, made an eagle on the 72nd hole to earn his first PGA Tour win. January’s hole-out from a downhill lie in a greenside bunker prompted Byron Nelson to call it “the most sensational shot I’ve ever seen in my life.”
You won’t find Earl Stewart’s name on any list of PGA Tour greats. He played the Tour in the 1950s and ’60s, and won three times. It was the last of those three wins that makes this list, and here’s why: When the 1961 Dallas Open Invitational was played at Oak Cliff Country Club, Stewart was the head pro there. Much to the delight of the local fans, he outdueled Arnold Palmer, Gay Brewer and Doug Sanders by one shot to win, becoming the first – and only - host club pro to win a Tour event. Stewart later went on to make a bigger name for himself as a college coach, winning the women’s national title with SMU in 1979.
Billy Horschel defeated Jason Day in a playoff to win on Tour for the first time since 2014. Inspired by her husband, Brittany Horschel released a statement on Twitter the following day revealing her battle with alcoholism and that, 'I am an alcoholic. I can say that now without shame.'
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