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15 Most Disastrous Major Golf Tournament Performances of All Time

Kevin CaseyContributor IJune 27, 2012

15 Most Disastrous Major Golf Tournament Performances of All Time

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    With the greatest of tournaments comes the greatest of pressure.

    More people watching means more people there to see you fail.

    An optimistic attitude and a steely reserve can do a player wonders, but even the best of them get tripped up under the spotlight of a major championship.

    That is the ultimate cruelty: at any point, to any player, the heat of the moment in a major can strike them down.

    This is the guiding philosophy behind this forthcoming list.

    Whether it be a collapse over a whole tournament, a whole day or even just one hole, these are the 15 worst major championship performances ever to be recorded.

    Surprisingly, many of the game's elite find themselves on this list of major championship infamy.

    But as the majors have shown over the years, no one is immune to shame.

Honorable Mention: Arnold Palmer 1966 U.S. Open

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    If you didn't hear the story 500 times during this past U.S. Open week, here's a little recap.

    Arnold Palmer held a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play during the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic.

    Believing the tournament to be won, Palmer set his sights on breaking Ben Hogan's U.S. Open scoring record of 276.

    It turned out to be a huge mistake.

    Taking his eye off the real prize, Palmer blew away what looked to be an insurmountable lead.

    Palmer's lead didn't actually dwindle that quickly, as he was still up five with four holes to play.

    Then Palmer bogeyed 15, 16 and 17. With two Billy Casper birdies during the same stretch, the duo was shockingly tied.

    Casper forced a playoff a hole later, and the next day he took advantage.

    Despite Palmer holding a two-shot lead after 10 holes of the playoff, Casper and his putter took over.

    Eight holes later, Palmer had lost the playoff by four shots and blew his chance at a second Open and an eighth major title (both of which he would never get).

    What could've been Palmer's crowning achievement turned out to be his biggest shame. So, why does it only find the honorable mention section?

    Well, Palmer did do his best to throw away this Open (playing four-over-par golf over his final nine holes of regulation), but Billy Casper's tremendous play (three-under-par in the same span) was equally important to this event.

    Palmer certainly choked, but without Casper's tremendous charge, the King still wins his second Open eighth major quite comfortably.

Honorable Mention: Rory McIlroy 2011 Masters

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    This may be the most recent collapse in people's memories.

    Going into the final round of the 2011 Masters with a four-shot lead, Rory McIlroy looked to be headed toward his coronation.

    The 21-year-old would waltz his way to his first-ever major championship title and be on his way to greatness.

    Uh, not so much.

    Missed short par putts at one and five sent McIlroy out to a shaky start, and by the time he reached the 10th tee, his lead was down to one.

    Things soon got far worse, though, as his tee shot on 10 produced a duck-hook that even your local hack couldn't make.

    A triple bogey ensued, and when McIlroy lost three more strokes to par over the next two holes, his bid was over.

    McIlroy's final-round 80 was certainly the heartbreaker of the year up to that point, but the Northern Irishman recovered quickly.

    An eight-shot victory at the U.S. Open, the very next major championship, redeemed the young McIlroy and got him back on track.

    Still, his Masters collapse will not be forgotten, and even though it just misses this list, it was still a major disaster.

Sergio Garcia 1999 British Open

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    Many remember Sergio Garcia's tough finish and subsequent blame game at his second go-round at Carnoustie in 2007, but his first time there was far worse.

    Garcia had turned pro in the middle of 1999, and was going to play his first major as a non-amateur at the British Open at Carnoustie that July.

    There was a great deal of hype behind the young Spaniard, and seeing as another phenom, Tiger Woods, romped to a 12-shot victory in his first pro start in a major two years earlier, it wasn't out of the question that Garcia could make a big statement in his first appearance.

    Well, Garcia did make a big statement—a statement that portended his career would be full of struggles.

    The cheery 19-year-old quickly lost his enthusiasm, firing a miserable opening-round 83 Thursday and breaking 90 by one stroke on Friday to finish his two days at 30 over par and in dead last place.

    The horrifying result was quite a tough beginning to a young career. Then again, playing your first major as a pro at a course with supremely narrow fairways and the thickest of rough probably didn't equal a recipe for success.

    Garcia would rebound miraculously the next month, almost winning the PGA Championship.

    However, his tremendous crash-and-burn at Carnoustie (the first time) is not something we will soon forget.

    Garcia did learn to deal with the failure pretty quickly, but it was definitely an inauspicious opening to what would become a very up-and-down career.

Billy Casper 2005 Masters

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    Augusta's policy of giving lifetime exemptions to Masters champions has its pros and its cons.

    On the plus side, it gives players a major they can count on playing even if their game goes straight south, but it also invites those well into their senior days to play.

    In 2005, Billy Casper showed how disastrous that could be.

    At age 73, the three-time major champion was playing in his last Masters (and last major) and was going out to enjoy his final stroll among the Augusta fairways.

    He couldn't have expected how poorly he would play, though.

    The 1970 Masters champ made one par on the front nine and went out in 49. He would shockingly do worse on the back nine, though, as a 14 on the par-3 16th paved the way for an incoming 57 and a first-round score of 106.

    Casper quickly withdrew after the round, a wise decision since his 106 would've shattered the previous high score of 95 at the Masters if it had counted.

    As promised, Casper never played in another Masters.

    That's pretty unsurprising. After that embarrassment, it can't be much fun to return to the event.

Greg Norman 1996 Masters

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    The Shark was the one always being bitten at Augusta.

    Greg Norman was tied for the lead on the 72nd hole at the 1986 Masters before fanning a four-iron far to the right and losing the tournament with a closing bogey.

    A year later, Norman's birdie putt on 18 to win shaved the edge of the cup, and if that wasn't enough heartbreak, in the ensuing playoff, a relatively unknown Larry Mize holed a 140-foot pitch to sink Norman's chances.

    And in 1989, heading to the 72nd hole tied for the lead after birdies on six of his previous nine holes, Norman finally looked poised to win. A bogey derailed his hopes, though, as he finished one shot out of a playoff.

    Hardened by all of those failures, Greg Norman looked ready to finally win that elusive Green Jacket in 1996.

    A course-record-tying 63 in the first round got him ahead early, and by the time the sun set on Saturday evening Norman enjoyed a six-shot advantage over the field.

    Even for a man whose career had been known for collapses and hard luck, Norman was certain to win his first Masters the next day.

    Only, he wasn't.

    Again, Norman would be slighted on Masters Sunday.

    The 41-year-old actually didn't budge much early—his lead had dwindled but was still a healthy four with 11 holes to play.

    The middle of the round was where Norman slipped up big time.

    Pursuer Nick Faldo birdied 8, and Norman proceeded to bogey holes 9, 10 and 11. When Norman dunked his ball in the water on 12 en route a double bogey, Faldo had suddenly jumped two shots ahead.

    Norman stayed in it with two birdies over his next three holes, but with another water ball (and double bogey) at 16, his chances had ended.

    It was a devastating defeat and a massive train wreck, considering this was Norman's best chance to break his Masters curse.

    An Aussie still hasn't won a Masters to this day. That could've changed in 1996, but one of the sport's greatest disasters made sure it wouldn't.

Retief Goosen and Jason Gore 2005 U.S. Open

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    Going into the final round of the 2005 U.S. Open, both men in the final pair had a lot to gain.

    Retief Goosen, who was ahead by three strokes at three under par, was gunning for his third U.S. Open title and a chance to solidify himself among the sport's greats (three major championships seems to many a rather large leap from two).

    Playing partner Jason Gore, three strokes back at even par, was looking to finish off his going-out party in style and give himself a five-year PGA Tour exemption that the start-up desperately needed.

    With those dreams hanging in the balance, Goosen and Gore faltered at the worst moment.

    The duo had just one birdie the whole day but had no problem filling up their scorecards with squares as they combined for 15 bogeys, three double bogeys and one triple bogey that Sunday.

    Goosen's quest for a third Open title hadn't even netted him a top 10, as his final-round 81 dropped him to a T11 finish.

    For Gore, even an exemption into next year's Open eluded him as his final-round 84 almost knocked him out of the Top 50 (he would place T49).

    Gore would win three Nationwide Tour events in the coming months and bring home a PGA Tour title in September, but that U.S. Open was his chance to make a mark and he has not been heard from since.

    Goosen is still one of the world's best, but the former-U.S. Open specialist hasn't sniffed a title in the event since.

    It's not unusual to see those in the final group struggle, but not to this extent. The 25-over-par score of the final two was a horrid ending to what looked like a promising tournament.

    And neither player has had the same chance since.

Dustin Johnson 2010 U.S. Open

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    Remember that final round at the U.S. Open two years ago, when everyone seemed to backpedal and Graeme McDowell eased his way to the crown?

    Thank Dustin Johnson for that.

    The 25-year-old long-hitter stormed out to a three-shot lead after 54 holes, thanks to a third-round 67.

    On a Pebble Beach course that Johnson seemed to love (he had won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am earlier that year and in 2009), it looked like a no-brainer that the young American would win.

    Acting like a scorned lover, however, Pebble Beach turned on Johnson early and often in the final-round.

    It all started at the second hole.

    That's where Johnson hit a poor second shot into a brutal lie in the right greenside rough, hacked it out five feet, chunked his next shot, chipped out to three feet and missed the short putt to card a triple bogey seven.

    It didn't calm down from there. An awful drive on three led to a lost ball, a re-tee and a double bogey six on the card.

    On the drivable par-four fourth, Johnson hit his tee shot in the water and dropped yet another stroke to par.

    Now six over par for the day and even par for the tournament, Johnson's psyche was ruined.

    Although pars from there on out would've meant a playoff, the young American was too shaken to steady himself and, consequently, made five more bogeys down the stretch on his way to a final-round 82.

    The failure was a brutal one for a player who looked ready to build his career on major championships.

    Two years and two more rough final-round finishes later, Johnson is still major-less.

    If things could've gone differently on that final day at Pebble, Johnson may have multiple majors by now.

Tiger Woods 2006 U.S. Open

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    Yes, the best player of this generation and one of the top two greatest players of all time makes a list of major championship disasters.

    I warned you that no one was immune.

    Still, this was a fluky performance from Tiger Woods.

    Going into the 2006 U.S. Open, the world No. 1 had a lot on his mind.

    He'd lost his very close father just six weeks before and was playing in an event for the first time since the death.

    Woods wanted to show that he had moved past his loss and was ready to enter the world of competitive golf again. Boy, was he wrong.

    Combine an emotional miscalculation with a brutal Winged Foot setup, and Woods brought out his worst.

    Bogeys on his first three holes the first day put Woods behind the eight-ball with an opening-round 76. When he duplicated the score Friday, the man who had never missed the cut in a major as a pro was flying home Friday night.

    For a player who always seemed so emotionless, it was shocking to see how human the man was.

    Maybe he was like every other golfer after all.

    Well, Woods did soon regain his dominance. He finished second in his very next event and then first in the next seven after that (including two majors).

    Woods has missed the cut in two more majors since, but considering the circumstances, his early exit in 2006 was by far his worst performance.

    Even the greatest are affected by their feelings, and for those two days, Woods proved as much.

John Daly 2008 British Open

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    The life of John Daly is dramatic enough to write a book about. Which he already did.

    And his experience at the 2008 British Open at Royal Birkdale is definitely an instance worth mentioning.

    There, on the eve of the tournament, Daly resumed a months-long fight he'd been having with former swing coach Butch Harmon.

    Daly again defended himself against Harmon's previous comments attacking the golfer for his laziness and affinity for drinking, further prodding a divisive issue.

    When the 42-year-old actually went onto the golf course, things only got worse.

    Instead of backing up his talk, Daly dug himself further into a hole.

    He opened the tournament with an 80, and if that wasn't bad enough, he took nine more strokes to complete his round Friday, tying for last place after two rounds.

    Considering this was the same man who had made an 18 on the sixth hole at Bay Hill and would later hit his last seven balls in the water on his way to a DQ in Australia, this self-destruction wasn't incredibly surprising.

    Nonetheless, it was a horrible showing.

    A man who had two major wins on his record was unable to beat a single player (let alone all of them) that week.

    John Daly's most damning major championship performance definitely deserves to be on this list.

Rocco Mediate 2006 Masters

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    Two years before taking Tiger Woods to the brink at Torrey Pines, Rocco Mediate had a fantastic chance to win at Augusta.

    At the age of 43, Mediate held a share of the lead going into the back nine on Sunday.

    There was just one problem though: his balky back was acting up.

    Moving along in severe pain and trying to hold his back together for nine more holes, Mediate largely held it together with a par on 10 and a bogey on 11.

    Disaster struck on 12, though.

    Mediate's first shot landed on the front bank and rolled into the water. He took a drop, and put that ball right in the water as well. His third ball also plunged into the hazard.

    By the time Mediate finally found land he was laying 6, and when he putted out on the green he had carded a mind-boggling 10 on the hole.

    From one back of the lead on the tee, he had fallen completely out of contention.

    He had gone from a share of the lead on 10 all the way to tied-for-36th walking off the 18th green.

    It was really an unfortunate ending for a man who played so well the whole week, and had his chance taken away by something he had no control over.

    That is golf, though. Even when your game is running on all cylinders, it will still find a way to get your goat.

Ray Ainsley 1938 U.S. Open

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    As scary as the 18th hole at Cherry Hills is, it's 16 that created the greatest disaster.

    There, during the 1938 U.S. Open, is where Ray Ainsley met his tragic fate.

    Well, not his fate, really.

    During the second round of that year's Open, Ainsley hit his approach shot to the par-four hole into a creek that fronted the green.

    Rather than dropping the ball and taking a penalty stroke, Ainsley decided to whack it right out of the water.

    He didn't get it out on the first try... or the second... or the third. One would've thought that at some point, he would've picked his ball up and dropped, but the stubborn man kept trying to hack it out of the water.

    Eventually he did, but by the time his ball finally found the bottom of the cup, Ainsley had taken a whopping 19 strokes on the hole.

    To this day, that is an Open record for highest score on a single hole.

    Even though Ray Ainsley never gained any fame for great golfing achievements, he can at least say he gained notoriety for his exploits on that one hole.

Harry Vardon 1920 U.S. Open

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    A testament to Harry Vardon's greatness, he was in prime position to win the U.S. Open at the age of 50.

    The golfing great from the other side of the pond was still one of the best in the world at that time despite his marked deterioration in putting—and at that 1920 Open at Inverness, he was proving it.

    Coming into the final round with a one-shot lead, the seven-time major champion had extended his advantage to four, with seven holes to play.

    As he walked to the 12th tee, it seemed a mere formality that Vardon would finally win his second Open title two decades after his first and become by far the championship's oldest winner in the process.

    At that precise moment however, the weather took a turn for the worst. A gale blew directly into Vardon's face on the 12th tee, and his game went bad quickly.

    Vardon would make just one par over the remaining seven holes and not a single red score. Instead of charging onto victory, Vardon plummeted to defeat with five bogeys and a double during the stretch.

    The old man had played his final seven holes in seven over par and crumbled at the end.

    For Vardon, it would've been the greatest golfing achievement of his life. But even for a man who fought through tuberculosis for years and years, old nerves and bad weather got the best of him.

Ian Baker-Finch 1995-1997 British Opens

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    After Ian Baker-Finch won his first major title at the 1991 British Open, his game fell off the Earth.

    It wasn't immediate, but by 1995 he had completely fallen apart.

    In 18 events on the PGA Tour that year, the Aussie did not make a single cut. In the following two years, Baker-Finch played 12 more events and missed 12 more cuts.

    Somehow though, he spared even worse golf for the tournament that had been the site of his greatest triumph.

    In 1995, Ian Baker-Finch stepped up to the first tee on the Old Course at St Andrews for the opening round of that year's British Open, and hit one of the worst shots in tournament history.

    Driving to a fairway 120 yards wide, Baker-Finch somehow hooked his ball so far left that it rolled out of bounds.

    The shocking start led to rounds of 77 and 76 and an early exit.

    A year later, he played even worse. In humiliating fashion, rounds of 78 and 84 put him in dead last place after two rounds of the tournament.

    And, somehow, the fallen Aussie plummeted even farther at the 1997 British Open. This time he couldn't even break 90, finishing in last place by five shots after the first round with a 92.

    He subsequently withdrew (likely due to embarrassment).

    Baker-Finch has at least resurrected his golfing career in broadcasting, but those three Opens were a painful reminder of the Aussie's precipitous fall in the playing department.

    It's hard to imagine that one of the best players in the world plummeted that far, but it did indeed happen and it will not soon be forgotten.

Gil Morgan 1992 U.S. Open

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    Eight years before Tiger Woods put out a masterpiece at the 2000 U.S. Open, Gil Morgan almost did the same.

    Opening rounds off 66 and 69 at that year's U.S. Open (played at the same Pebble Beach where Woods triumphed in 2000) put Morgan ahead of the field by three shots going into the weekend.

    He stepped further on the gas pedal in round three, knocking off three more strokes to par in the first seven holes, reaching 12 under par and stretching his lead to seven.

    Even with 29 holes left in the tournament, the story seemed obvious. Morgan was going to run away with this Open.

    As fast as his game flourished, though, it just as quickly soured.

    The conditions worsened significantly, and so did Morgan's game.

    On the three-hole "Cliffs of Doom" stretch, holes eight, nine and 10, Morgan lost five strokes to par. Four more lost strokes over the next four holes had the optometrist reeling badly.

    By day's end, his lead had gone all the way from seven to one, and on Sunday he would do even worse.

    Facing conditions that rivaled the final-round bloodbath at the Open there 20 years before, Morgan wilted further.

    A final-round 81 pushed Morgan all the way out of the top 10 and eight shots behind the winner.

    In just 29 holes, Morgan had lost 15 strokes to the lead.

    Woods made it look easy in the next go-round at Pebble, but this time around, when disaster struck, it didn't let up.

Bobby Jones 1921 British Open

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    It's not a well-known fact, but Bobby Jones was quite petulant on the course early on in his career.

    Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice later said that at this time, Bobby had "the face of an angel and the temper of a timber wolf."

    This attitude boiled over at the 1921 British Open, Jones' first trip to St Andrews.

    Despite its sentimental value as the home of the golf, the course was not to Jones' liking at the start.

    Over the first two rounds of that year's Open, though, his play said otherwise. Jones led all amateurs at the halfway point and was five off the lead heading into round three.

    Then, everything turned sour.

    Jones fell from contention with a dismal front-nine 46. To add insult to injury, he double-bogeyed 10 and when he hit his tee shot on 11th tee into the front bunker, the tempestuous young man was about to let loose.

    This is where details get fuzzy. Some say Jones holed out for his triple bogey six, then quit. Others say he picked up his ball (and by consequence disqualified himself) after numerous failed attempts to get out of the bunker.

    As for how he quit, some say he tore up his scorecard and left the course, while others say he finished out the round as if he were still part of the tournament.

    In actuality, we don't know what Jones made on that hole, but a couple of things are clear. He did disqualify himself and he did stay on the course to finish the remaining 25 holes of the tournament (even though they didn't count for him).

    It was a low point for Jones' temper, and he has since called it the most shameful act in his career.

    So, even the gentlemanly champion Bobby Jones can fail so miserably.

    Golf is a crazy game.

Jean Van De Velde 1999 British Open

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    We all know this story.

    An unknown named Jean Van de Velde came to the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie holding a three-shot lead.

    The tournament was seemingly in hand, but, just as suddenly, it wasn't.

    An unlikely bounce off a grandstand on the second shot left Van de Velde in thick rough, having to carry the Barry Burn with his third.

    The unfortunate break took its toll when Van de Velde dumped his ball right into the small waterway and created a massive commotion.

    For a while the Frenchman contemplated hitting it out of the water, but he finally came to his senses.

    He then knocked his fifth shot in the front bunker, got up and down for a triple bogey seven and lost in the subsequent playoff that should've never happened.

    The tragic collapse was enough to break even a stronger man's soul, but Van de Velde has taken the gaffe with humor.

    Years later, he actually even played the hole with just a putter to see if he could make better than seven with it (it took him a few tries but he did).

    Still, he will have to live with the fact that this set of mistakes is his defining moment.

    It's not like he doesn't have company, though.

Phil Mickelson 2006 U.S. Open

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    To repeat the last slide, we all know this story.

    Seven years after Van de Velde's collapse, Phil Mickelson registered one of his own.

    The lefty held a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open when his brain absolutely froze.

    Having hit just two fairways up to that point all day, and facing a par-four that really wasn't all that long, Mickelson figured a driver would be the right club to hit off the tee.

    Mistake No. 1 meant a huge slice that went so far left that it bounced off a hospitality tent.

    In bad position, Mickelson made matters worse. He only needed bogey to tie and par to win. Considering his extraordinary wedge play, a pitch down the fairway would've likely left him with a decent chance at par and at worst a bogey.

    Instead, Mickelson tried to cook a nice, big-cut three-iron around the tree that blocked his path.

    Mistake No. 2 saw him hit the tree and leave himself a third shot that was still far from the green and still blocked out.

    Those two mistakes sunk Mickelson. Now cornered, he pushed his third shot into a buried lie in the greenside bunker, blasted out over the green and missed his bogey chip.

    With a double bogey six, Phil Mickelson had now finished runner-up in the U.S. Open for a fourth time.

    Although it was just one hole, it's hard to imagine a worse collapse than this. He might be tied with Van de Velde, but considering the caliber of player Mickelson was and is, this was a downright shocking outcome.

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