It's not a stretch to say that the 1975 Masters Tournament changed my life.
Prior to that glorious weekend in April, I had a normal 11-year olds' knowledge and interest in the game of golf. By the time Jack Nicklaus putted out on 18, to claim his 5th Green Jacket, I had become a certified golf nut.
As a result, I've spent the past 34 years in a tumultuous love affair with the world's most beautiful and most frustrating game. And I don't regret a single moment.
Maybe because of the impact the '75 championship had on me, the Masters has remained my favorite event of golf's Grand Slam. In the past three and half decades, the tournament has rewarded my loyalty with some of the greatest moments in golf history.
Here, for your consideration, are, in my opinion, the 10 greatest Masters Tournaments since 1975, in order of significance, impact and excitement.
10. 2001: Tiger Completes the "Tiger Slam"
Tiger Woods fired a final round 68 to beat David Duval by two and Phil Mickelson by three. The win made him the first golfer in history to hold all four professional majors at the same time, after his wins at the 2000 U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championships.
9. 1995: Crenshaw's Tribute to Harvey
Coming just days after the death of his mentor and long-time coach Harvey Penick, Ben Crenshaw shot a final round 68 to edge a charging Davis Love III by a shot and win his second green jacket. Gentle Ben's breakdown after sinking the winning putt on the 18th green remains one of the most emotional moments in golf history.
8. 2004: Phil Gets the Monkey off His Back
Phil Mickelson finally won an elusive first major after a stirring Sunday battle with Ernie Els. After a slow start, Els eagled both the 8th and 13th to take the lead, but Phil rallied with five birdies on the back nine, tying the lead with a 20 footer on 16 and winning the title with an 18 foot birdie effort on the 72nd hole.
7. 1978: Little Man Makes Big Charge
42-year old Gary Player completed one of the biggest Sunday charges in Masters' history to win his third title at Augusta. Starting the day seven shots behind the leader, Player birdied seven of the last 10 holes on the way to a final round 64, to edge Hubert Green, Rod Funseth and Tom Watson by a single shot.
6. 2005: "In Your Life Have You Seen Anything Like That!?"
Tiger Woods held a three-shot lead after 54 holes but Chris Dimarco birdied 9, 11 and 14 to pull within a shot. After both players birdied the par 5 15th, Dimarco hit his tee shot on 16 to within 20 feet, but Tiger hit his over the green, leaving an almost an impossible chip shot. What happened next turned out to be one of the most dramatic moments in golf history, as Woods' chip shot rolled towards the hole and hung on the lip for what seemed like minutes before falling, for a much needed birdie. Surprisingly, it seemed like the shot rattled Tiger more than Dimarco, as the world number one went on to bogey the next two holes to set-up a playoff, but only after Dimarco nearly chipped in to end it on the 72nd hole. Tiger righted the ship in the playoff, birding the first extra hole for the win.
5. 1980: El Matador's Finest Hour
Seve Ballesteros won his first of two Green Jackets and permanently changed the balance of power in world golf, with a dominating victory at the 44th Masters Tournament. The Spaniard led wire-to-wire after an opening round 66, stretched his lead to seven shots after 54 holes and led by 10 with nine holes to play, before letting his foot of the gas to claim a 4-shot win over Gibby Gilbert and Jack Newton.
4. 1975: Jack Wins Showdown with Weiskopf and Miller
Jack Nicklaus entered the final round trailing Tom Weiskopf by a shot, but his final round 68 gave him a one shot victory over Weiskopf and a fast charging Johnny Miller, who shot 66 on the final day. The two key moments on the final Sunday were Weiskopfs' fat 5-iron on the par 4 11th that found the water and the 40 foot bomb the Golden Bear dropped on the par 3 16th to take the lead for good. Nicklaus' leap for joy and the gallery's roar when the putt dropped, shook the hallowed ground of Augusta National like it had never been before.
3. 1996: Norman's Collapse Gives Faldo 3rd Title
No player in the history of golf has had more bad luck at Augusta than Greg Norman. With a little good fortune, the Australian could have had two or three green jackets heading into the 1996 tournament. On the strength of an opening 63, Norman had built a 6-stroke lead after 54 holes and his run of futility in the first major of the season appeared to be on the verge of coming to an end. But a few bad shots, a bit of bad luck and Nick Faldo's final round 67, allowed Norman to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
2. 1997: "A Victory for the Ages"
Coming in to his first professional major as the tournament favorite, after exploding on the scene during the last half of 1996 , Tiger Woods started the 1997 Masters with an opening nine of 40, causing many Tiger doubters to smile smugly to themselves. The 21-year old quickly erased those grins with a second nine 30, that put him right back near the top of the leaderboard. What followed was an Augusta masterpiece that may never be duplicated. 22-under par over his final 63 holes, a tournament record 270 total and an astounding 12-shot victory over Tom Kite. If there had been previously any doubt, a new era in golf's history had officially begun.
1. 1986: The Greatest Masters Ever Played
Few gave the 46-year old Nicklaus much chance to claim his sixth Masters' title and after 54 holes he trailed leader Greg Norman by 4 shots. After a pedestrian 35 on the front side, Nicklaus exploded for 5 birdies and an eagle on the inward nine, with the roars from the gallery seemingly getting louder and louder with each move up the leaderboard. His final round 65 gave him a one-shot victory over Norman and Tom Kite, as player after player seemed to self destruct in Jack's wake. The carnage included Seve Ballesteros, who held the lead before dumping his second shot into the water on 15, and the Shark, who, needing only a par on 18 to force a playoff, hit his approach into the gallery and made bogie. A fitting script for the 50th edition of golf's greatest event.
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