Masters 2012: Rory McIlroy and the Biggest Meltdowns in Golf History

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2012

Masters 2012: Rory McIlroy and the Biggest Meltdowns in Golf History

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    As much as everyone loves to see an incredible triumph, there is something about an epic collapse that is just as intriguing. That can be said for any sport, but it is especially true in golf.

    Perhaps it's because it's an individual sport where the players have nobody to rely on but themselves, but when a golfer blows it on the big stage, it is painful and captivating all at once. There have been plenty of choke jobs at major championships in the history of golf, and with the Masters being played this week, we could soon see another.

    Last year it was rising star Rory McIlroy who succumbed to failure with the eyes of the world on him at the Masters. He will have a chance to atone for that meltdown on Sunday, as he is very much in the hunt once again in the 2012 edition.

    Choking on golf's biggest stage in consecutive years would be a tough pill to swallow, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility. Although it may not be the same magnitude of what happened to McIlroy last year or others in the past, there is a good chance that someone will buckle under the pressure this weekend.

    Perhaps they will join this list of the biggest meltdowns in golf history.

10. Rory McIlroy (2011 Masters)

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    Rory McIlroy entered the final round of last year's Masters with a four-stroke lead at 12-under. He led or had a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds and was clearly the best player for the vast majority of the tournament. People were ready to anoint him as the next great golfer, but the pressure became too much for him to bear.

    His round got off to a shaky start, but it all fell apart between the 10th and 12th holes. McIlroy went triple bogey, bogey, double bogey over that three-hole stretch and eliminated himself from contention in the blink of an eye. He finished with the worst final-round score in Masters history at an eight-over 80. McIlroy rebounded to win the U.S. Open, though, and will have a chance to conquer his Masters demons this weekend.

9. Retief Goosen (2005 U.S. Open)

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    There is no question that South African star Retief Goosen had a fantastic career as he won two U.S. Opens as well as countless other tournaments across multiple tours. However, he is also known for one of golf's biggest choke jobs as well. After winning the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2004, Goosen was a prohibitive favorite to turn the trick again in 2005.

    It seemed quite likely that he would, too, as he entered the final round at Pinehurst with a three-shot advantage. Things went badly for Goosen right from the start, however, as he double-bogeyed on the second hole and never recovered; he finished with a final-round 81. This allowed Michael Campbell to sneak in and win his only career major.

8. T.C. Chen (1985 U.S. Open)

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    As the first Taiwanese player to earn his PGA Tour card, T.C. Chen was certainly a trailblazer. At the 1985 U.S. Open, he seemed likely to score a major coup for Asian golfers as a whole as he held a four-shot lead after four holes in the final round. On the ensuing fifth, however, Chen turned in one of the most infamous performances on a single hole in the history of a major.

    Chen scored a rare quadruple bogey on the hole as he double-hit a chip. Although the feat is incredibly rare and unlucky in golf, it cost him two strokes and ultimately the tournament as he finished in second, just one stroke behind Andy North. Chen never did go on to win a major, but he did earn the comical moniker of "Two Chip" Chen.

7. Thomas Bjorn (2003 British Open)

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    With so many meltdowns over the history of golf, there are some that often get overlooked. One that fits into that category is Thomas Bjorn's painful collapse at the 2003 British Open. It would be fair to call the Danish golfer a journeyman, as he has never won on the PGA Tour. With a two-shot lead on the 16th hole at Royal St. George's, all signs pointed to Bjorn etching his name in the annals of golf history.

    In one respect, you could say that Bjorn did just that, but it was for all the wrong reasons. It took Bjorn three shots to get out of a green-side bunker on the 16th as the ball twice rolled down the slope and back into the sand. This led to a double bogey on the hole, and he followed it up with a bogey on the 17th, allowing Ben Curtis to steal the win. To this day, that sand trap is affectionately known as "Bjorn's Bunker."

6. Scott Hoch (1989 Masters)

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    Although Scott Hoch never won a major championship, he was certainly a high-quality player throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He won 11 times on the PGA Tour during his career and twice represented the United States in the Ryder Cup. Because of his performance at the 1989 Masters, however, he will always be known to golf fans as "Hoch the Choke."

    Hoch did battle with Nick Faldo in the final round of that tournament, and the evenly matched foes ultimately went to a playoff. Faldo struggled to a bogey on the first playoff hole, so all Hoch had to do was sink a two-foot par putt for the win. He inexplicably missed it, and Faldo hit an iconic 25-foot birdie on the next hole, giving him the green jacket and leaving Hoch in shame.

5. Ben Hogan (1955 U.S. Open)

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    There is no question that Ben Hogan was one of the greatest golfers of all time as he won nine major championships, including a career Grand Slam. With that said, he is also responsible for one of the biggest collapses in the history of golf. At the 1955 U.S. Open, Hogan was looking to win a record fifth title in the event, and after finishing his round it appeared he would.

    Little-known Jack Fleck would sink a birdie putt on the 18th, however, to force an 18-hole playoff with the immortal Hogan. With just one hole remaining in the playoff, the heavily favored Hogan trailed by one stroke, but most observers believed he would rise to the occasion. Hogan hit an errant tee shot, however, and Fleck closed out one of the great upsets in golf history with a par.

4. Arnold Palmer (1966 U.S. Open)

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    While any golfer blowing a big lead in the final round of a major tournament is considered a big deal, it rings even truer when it happens to one of the all-time greats. In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer held what seemed like an insurmountable seven-shot lead on the back nine on Sunday. Palmer would inexplicably go on to lose the tournament, though.

    Palmer struggled on the back nine, but much of the reason for his loss was the hot play of Billy Casper, who shot a 32 over the final nine holes. Palmer managed to save face by forcing an 18-hole playoff, but things just got worse for the legend. Palmer led the playoff by two strokes with just eight holes to go, but the final holes were unkind to him again as Casper charged back to win by four shots.

3. Phil Mickelson (2006 U.S. Open)

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    Phil Mickelson was long known as the best player to never win a major, but after winning the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2004, the PGA Championship in 2005 and the Masters again in 2006, his fortunes were changing. At the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Lefty was just one hole from winning his third consecutive major, and all he needed was a par to hold off Geoff Ogilvy.

    Rather than taking a conservative approach, however, Mickelson busted out the driver and hit his tee shot well off course onto a tent. He was faced with a difficult second shot with a tree in his way, but rather than hitting a low shot back onto the fairway, he attempted to hit it around the tree. He couldn't, and that sealed his fate.

    Mickelson double-bogeyed the hole and lost the tournament by a single stroke.

2. Greg Norman (1996 Masters)

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    Some collapses happen on a single hole, while some develop over an entire round; Greg Norman's meltdown at the 1996 Masters was certainly the latter. The Shark entered the final round of that tournament with a six-shot advantage over Nick Faldo as he played spectacularly. Just as Faldo had done to Scott Hoch seven years earlier, however, he would deny Norman his chance at a green jacket.

    Faldo had an excellent round as he shot a 67, but Norman really had nobody to blame but himself after he shot a 78 that included five bogeys and two doubles. The collapse was so bad that Norman wasn't even close by the time the round ended, as he finished five shots back. Norman was no stranger to struggling in the final round of majors, but the '96 Masters was by far his worst.

1. Jean Van De Velde (1999 British Open)

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    When your name becomes synonymous with choking in any aspect of sports or life in general, you know that you've done something unfathomable. That was the case with Jean van de Velde in the 1999 British Open. The journeyman entered the final hole at Carnoustie with a sizable three-shot lead. That meant that Van de Velde needed only a double bogey to clinch the victory.

    What happened next was unquestionably the biggest collapse on a single hole in the history of major golf. Van de Velde completely abandoned conventional wisdom as he was overly aggressive and ended up in the deep rough. From there, he eventually had to take a drop and ultimately triple-bogeyed.

    He still had a chance to win as he entered a playoff with eventual-winner Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard, but the events of the 18th hole had clearly shaken the defeated Van de Velde.