The 10 Best Golf Celebrations in History

James McMahonContributor IMay 5, 2013

The 10 Best Golf Celebrations in History

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    Ahead of great accomplishments typically lives significant pressure, especially in golf where success or failure, glory or misery rests solely with one person. There's no coach to instruct, no teammate to help. It's just the golfer, the course and the shot.

    It stands to reason, then, that when pressure gives way to success, the celebration that results is emotional, raw and unpredictable...just the way we like to see it. Fist pumps, leaps, high fives and bear hugs come pouring out the minute a golf shot goes pouring into the hole. The result is often more memorable than the shot itself and provides a window into the psyche of the world's finest golfers.

    Here are golf's top 10 celebrations brought on by incredible shots, meaningful victories and long-sought-after redemption.

10. Adam Scott: 2013 Masters

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    Perhaps because it's so fresh in our minds, or maybe because it was a moment of significant redemption for a great golfer, Adam Scott's celebration after sinking a putt to win the 2013 Masters just feels like a good way to kick off this list.

    Less than a year after losing a four-shot lead on the back nine of the 2012 British Open, Adam Scott bested Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole, and the importance of his long-awaited major victory was quite clear.

    After watching Cabrera miss a putt of similar distance, Scott stepped up and drained the 12-footer dead in the middle as he raised his arms to the sky and let out a yell of excitement that could barely be heard among the huge roar of the patrons around the 10th green.

    It was the second such putt Scott had drained within an hour, joining his amazing 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that ultimately earned him a spot in the playoff.

9. Bubba Watson: 2012 Masters

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    No fist pump, no leap into the air. Not a single scream or high five.

    No, Bubba Watson celebrated his thrilling 2012 Masters victory with an emotional embrace first with his caddie and then his mother as tears of joy flowed freely from the popular champion. It certainly was a celebration of a different kind but every bit one of the most memorable in major championship history.

    Minutes after pulling off one of the most amazing shots ever at The Masters from the trees on the par-4 10th, Watson two-putted for par to topple Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole to capture his first green jacket.

    Caught up in the emotion of such an unexpected shot, the reality of recently becoming a father and the still-recent loss of his own dad to cancer, Watson celebrated the career-defining triumph the only way he could—openly crying while seeking comfort in two long hugs with the people closest to him.

    Because of his free-wheeling style and easygoing nature, Bubba was already one of the most popular players in the game before his emotional display at Augusta National. Following it, he could add most endearing to that as well.

8. Tiger Woods: 2006 British Open

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    Ten times Earl Woods watched his son celebrate a major championship victory either in person or via television, undoubtedly taking pride in the greatness he helped mold.

    Following his 11th major triumph in the 2006 British Open, his first since saying a final goodbye to his father two months earlier, Tiger provided a rare glimpse into his human side for the world to see.

    Woods tapped in on the 72nd green, raised his hands briefly, gave a slight fist pump and then let the real emotions flow free. In perhaps the most poignant public moments of his career, Tiger fell into a long hug with caddie Steve Williams as tears flowed uncontrollably. Moments later and with the cameras still on him, Woods embraced then wife Elin for a long time with tears still gushing freely.

    The celebration at Royal Liverpool was anything but typical Tiger, and because of that it remains perhaps the most significant of his 14 major winning reactions. There was no robotic champion focused simply on winning, but rather a genuine human being still grieving the loss of his father even as the joy of another major accomplishment washed over him.

    Vintage Tiger, no. A truly likable one, oh yes.

7. Larry Mize: 1987 Masters

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    Larry Mize wasn't supposed to win the 1987 Masters. He certainly wasn't supposed to beat Greg Norman in a playoff to do it.

    Yet there was Mize, sinking one of the most incredible chips in major championship golf to best Norman on the second playoff hole, setting off a memorable and sportsmanlike celebration that serves as Mize's career calling card.

    In another huge body blow to Norman’s career, Mize sank an almost 140-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 11th and then set into a celebration that started with several jumps into the air, a jog up to and across the green and then a look to the heavens that almost screamed “are you kidding me?”

    Mize, however, quickly regained composure and asked the frenzied patrons around the green to quiet down as Norman still had a birdie putt of his own to prolong the playoff. A stunned Norman would, of course, miss the putt, and hometown hero Mize would have his green jacket.

6. Tiger Woods: 2008 U.S. Open

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    Even on a torn-up knee and with the prospect of an 18-hole Monday playoff in front of him, Tiger Woods managed another Broadway-quality moment on the 72nd hole of the now classic 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

    Faced with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to force a playoff with friend Rocco Mediate, Woods, who unknown to most was playing despite a torn ligament and stress fracture in his left leg, had to summon some major magic yet another time. The 14-time major champion (13 at the time of the putt) hit a pure putt that broke just to his left and into the hole for the tying birdie, setting off a dramatic double fist pump and emphatic high five from his then-caddie Steve Williams.

    While Tiger wouldn't win the 2008 Open until the 19th playoff hole on Monday, the putt on 18 Sunday and his subsequent celebration was the signature moment of the most impressive major victory in Tiger’s amazing career.

5. Phil Mickelson: 2004 Masters

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    Phil Mickelson waited longer than anyone expected to celebrate a major championship victory, so when the time came to immortalize that moment of major realization, Lefty was ready to celebrate along with the thousands roaring their approval on Augusta National's 18th hole.

    Lefty’s breakthrough moment arrived on the 72nd hole of the 2004 Masters as he sank a sizable birdie putt to win his first major championship. Not only did the putt silence critics who suggested he lacked the game and fortitude to win golf’s largest prize, it provided what is still the singular moment of celebration in Mickelson's career.

    As the putt rolled in, Phil rose up best he could with two arms above his head and then came quickly back down to Earth with his backside almost as low as his knees.

    It wasn't the prettiest of moves, but considering his torturous wait for a first major victory, a critique of the awkward moment would be missing the mark. Ultimately, the moment was pure Mickelson and will be remembered among the top in Masters history.

4. Hale Irwin: 1990 U.S. Open

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    Looking back on the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, it’s difficult to decide which is the event's more memorable moment: Hale Irwin’s incredible 45-foot putt on the 72nd hole to force an 18-hole playoff with Mike Donald or the impromptu, fan-engaged celebration that followed and remains one of the all-time greats in championship golf 23 years later.

    Playing some 13 groups ahead of the leaders on a bunched-up Sunday, Irwin capped an exciting final round with an amazing 45-foot uphill, then downhill and left-breaking putt that found the bottom of the hole. Seconds later, there was Irwin jogging around the entire 18th green high-fiving fans in a celebration the likes of which were never before seen in major championship golf.

    Once the excitement faded, Irwin still had to wait an hour or so to find out his putt had earned him a Monday playoff with Donald, which he won on the 19th hole to become the oldest-ever U.S. Open champion at age 45. Yet it was his spirited jog around the 18th green at Medinah that has remained the signature moment of Irwin’s solid career.

3. Tiger Woods: 2005 Masters

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    Even for Tiger Woods the shot on the 16th green in the final round of the 2005 Masters and the reaction that ensued was simply off the charts. 

    One of the most defining moments in Masters history, Woods chipped in from off the green for birdie at the par-3 16th, a result that was suspended in time for a brief second as the ball, Nike logo and all, hung on the edge of the cup before falling in.

    Adding to the excitement was the fact Woods had to play the shot some 25 feet above the hole and then watch it slowly work its way back down to the ultimate target. Of the memorable Tiger moments, this one trumps them all as Woods reared back, threw both arms up in a double fist pump and gave a roar that could be heard around Augusta National and likely all the way out to Washington Street.

    The shot helped propel Woods to the last of his four green jackets, which he won in a playoff over Chris DiMarco.

2. Payne Stewart: 1999 U.S. Open

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    Our inability to see into the future often limits our appreciation of the present. That rather simple fact comes to mind every time I see the great Payne Stewart’s incredible reaction to winning the 1999 U.S. Open on Pinehurst's No. 2 Course.

    Needing to drain a 20-foot bender for par on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff with Phil Mickelson, Stewart did exactly that to win his second career U.S. Open title. As the putt plunged into the hole, Stewart raised a fist forward into the air as he lurched toward the hole. In the moments following his incredible putt, Stewart would embrace a crestfallen Mickelson, who was one day away from becoming a father for the first time.

    Three months after that memorable moment, Stewart would perish in a tragic plane crash that robbed a wife of a loving husband, two children of a devoted father and a golf world of a precious champion.

    Fittingly, Stewart crafted his career-defining triumph before fate took his life and in doing so provided a moment that will forever be remembered through a statue erected just feet from where it all happened.

1. US Ryder Cup Team: 1999 Ryder Cup

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    The United States Ryder Cup team was done, finished, beaten. Trailing by four points entering the final day of the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline Country Club, there was little hope of a U.S. victory when Sunday's singles matches started.

    Hours later, Justin Leonard's mammoth 45-foot putt on the 17th hole of his match against Jose Maria Olazabal launched a raucous and controversial celebration that came to define the Americans' ultimate triumph in the "Battle of Brookline." When the putt dropped, Leonard began chasing it with hands raised in the air as his fellow teammates—along with some of their wives—flooded the green to celebrate with the Texan.

    The only problem was that Olazabal still had a birdie putt of his own to halve the hole and send the match to the 18th. The Europeans were understandably none too pleased by the celebration that took place in part along Olazabal's putting line.

    When the Spaniard's putt missed, they were even less pleased that they were dominated so completely by the Americans en route to the shocking loss that resulted in golf's most famous—and infamous—celebration.