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The Biggest Collapses in US Open Golf History

Kirk KenneyFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2016

The Biggest Collapses in US Open Golf History

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    The U.S. Open has been the stage for some of the most stirring moments in golf history.

    No one will ever forget the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines, where Tiger Woods, who was basically playing on one leg, defeated Rocco Mediate in a gripping tournament that concluded with a 19-hole playoff.

    Merion Golf Club, the site of this year's Open, has had its own moments. It includes a 1971 playoff victory by Lee Trevino over Jack Nicklaus and a 1950 playoff win by Ben Hogan in his comeback less than two years after a near-fatal car accident.

    Then there is the other side of the coin.

    The U.S. Open also has seen its share of collapses. There is as much agony as ecstasy at the event. Here are the most memorable—forgettable?—moments in Open history, where players have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.


    Historical information from,, and other noted sources.

8. Sam Snead (1939, Philadelphia Country Club)

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    The Setup: Sam Snead led after each of the first two rounds and was one stroke behind leader Johnny Bulla through three rounds. No fewer than six players had a shot at the championship coming to the 72nd hole, and Snead was among them.

    The Collapse: Snead required only a par to claim the championship. Believing he needed a birdie to win, however, Snead played the hole aggressively. It would cost him. Snead found two bunkers on the way to the green and carded a triple-bogey eight. He finished two strokes out of a three-way playoff won by Byron Nelson.

    The Aftermath: Snead was just five years into a Hall of Fame career that would include a PGA Tour record 82 victories. There would be plenty of opportunities to win the Open. Right?

7. Dustin Johnson (2010, Pebble Beach)

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    The Setup: Dustin Johnson won back-to-back titles at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2009-10. Not a bad tune-up for the 2010 U.S. Open, which was being played at Pebble. After rounds of 71 and 70 on the first two days of the tournament, Johnson shot a 66 in the third round to take a three-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell entering the final round.

    The Collapse: Johnson's dream of his first major championship quickly turned into a nightmare with a triple bogey on the second hole and a double bogey on the third. He was never the same thereafter, ballooning to a final-round 82 and a tie for eighth place. McDowell's 74 provided him with a one-shot victory over Gregory Havret. A five-over-par 76 that day would have been enough for Johnson to win.

    The Aftermath: Johnson's major misfortunes continued a couple of months later at the PGA Championship; a two-stroke penalty dropping him out of a playoff for the title. He finished tied for 23rd at the 2011 Open and missed the cut last year, but he remains among the world's best golfers. He has had one top-10 finish at the PGA Championship and two top-10s at the British Open since his problems at Pebble.

6. Sam Snead (1947, St. Louis Country Club)

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    The Setup: You again? Sam Snead's final-round 70—which included a birdie on the 18th hole—enabled him to gain a stroke on third-round leader Lew Worsham and force an 18-hole playoff. In the playoff, Snead led by two shots with three holes to play.

    The Collapse: Worsham birdied the par-three 16th hole to get back one stroke and drew even when Snead bogeyed the par-four 17th. They both launched solid drives off the tee on the 419-yard, par-4 18th hole, but Snead had the advantage when his approach shot landed 15 feet from the hole, while Worsham's stopped on the fringe.

    Worsham's third shot went in and out of the hole, stopping less than three feet from the pin. Snead left his birdie putt short and it appeared they would both par out and have to play another 18 holes in the afternoon. But Worsham called an official for a measurement to see who was farther from the hole. It turned out Worsham was 29 inches from the cup and Snead was 30.5 inches away.

    Snead "looked daggers" at Worsham, according to the Toledo Blade, before stroking a putt that hit the side of the hole and stopped an inch away for bogey. Worsham then stepped up and holed his par putt for the championship.

    The Aftermath: Snead finished in the top 10 in the Open nine times over the next two decades. He was runner-up four times. While Snead won seven majors in his career, the Open was not one of them.

5. T.C. Chen (1985, Oakland Hills)

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    The Setup: The first three days of the Open were amazing for T.C. Chen. He set a course record with a 65 at Michigan's Oakland Hills, carded the first double eagle in Open history and set 36- and 54-hole scoring records. Chen had a one-stroke lead over Andy North entering the final round and expanded his advantage to four shots Sunday as he stepped to the fifth tee.

    The Collapse: Chen's fifth hole became part of Open history for all the wrong reasons. His second shot on the par-four hole landed in the greenside rough. He double-hit the ball when he chipped out, requiring a one-stroke penalty. He then three-putted for a quadruple-bogey eight. A snowman to the common man. Bogeys on each of the next three holes followed.

    Chen briefly got back a share of the lead on the back nine, but finished with a seven-over-par 77. North shot 74 for a one-stroke victory over Chen and two others to win his second Open championship.

    The Aftermath: Chen never contended again in the Open. He finished tied for 59th the following year and missed the cut in 1987 and '88.

4. Retief Goosen (2005, Pinehurst)

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    The Setup: Retief Goosen carded three birdies on his final five holes of the third round at Pinehurst to give him a 69 and a three-shot lead heading into the final round. Goosen was the only player under par in his bid for a second straight Open championship and third title overall.

    The Collapse: Goosen gave away six strokes Sunday on the front nine. He still was in the mix, but five bogeys on the back took him out of contention. After shooting 68, 70, 69 over the first three rounds, Goosen shot an 11-over-par 81. He finished tied for 11th, eight strokes behind Michael Campbell, who held off Tiger Woods for a two-stroke victory and his first major title.

    The Aftermath: Goosen has not finished inside the top 10 at the Open since the disappointment at Pinehurst, although he continued to contend in majors over the next five years. He tied for 10th in last year's Open at Olympic Club. Goosen withdrew from this year's Open two weeks ago because of a back injury.

3. Arnold Palmer (1966, Olympic Club)

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    The Setup: Arnold Palmer took a three-shot lead into the final round and expanded his advantage to seven strokes over playing partner Billy Casper as they made the turn. Palmer was eyeing not only his second Open victory (he won in 1960) but also a run at Bobby Jones' Open scoring record of 276. A one-over-par 36 over the final nine holes at San Francisco's Olympic Club would give him a total of 275.

    The Collapse: Palmer started the back nine with a bogey at the 10th hole. A birdie at 12 was offset by another bogey at 13. Casper birdied the par-three 15th, while Palmer carded another bogey and all of a sudden, his lead was down to three shots. The par-five 16th hole represented another two-shot swing and after Palmer bogeyed the 17th hole, it was all tied up.

    A pair of pars at 18 meant they were coming back the next day for an 18-hole playoff to decide the matter. Casper prevailed, adding the 1966 championship to the 1959 title he won at Winged Foot.

    The Aftermath: "The King" was second again the following year—he finished second four times at the Open—and had six top-10 finishes in the Open over the next decade. Palmer never did win another major (he had seven overall), although he added 15 more PGA tour victories to his illustrious career.

2. Colin Montgomerie (2006, Winged Foot)

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    The Setup: Colin Montgomerie was in contention throughout the week at Winged Foot in pursuit of an elusive first major. He was the first-round leader and one shot back midway through the tournament. Even after slipping three shots behind entering the final day, he gave himself a chance. Montgomerie hit a 75-foot birdie putt Sunday on the 17th hole and had a share of the lead at the par-four 18th.

    The Collapse: Montgomerie may not have known it at the time, given the fluid situation of the tournament, but a par would win it and a bogey would be good enough to get into an 18-hole playoff. He was in the middle of the fairway off the tee, but his approach shot went right, down a greenside slope. The high rough made chipping difficult. He got on the green, some 40 feet from the hole. But a par putt went 10 feet past the hole and he missed the bogey putt coming back.

    The resulting double dropped him a shot behind eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy. "I look forward to coming back next year and try another U.S. Open disaster," Montgomerie said.

    The Aftermath: Montgomerie is among those labeled with the dreaded "best golfers never to have won a major." He had his moments, placing among the top 10 in majors 10 times. That includes two seconds at the British Open and PGA Championship and three more runners-up at the U.S. Open. His best golf is well behind him now. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, however, so he's got that going for him.

    There is one other consolation for Montgomerie. His was not the worst collapse that year at Winged Foot.

1. Phil Mickelson (2006, Winged Foot)

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    The Setup: Phil Mickelson had won two straight majors when he stepped to the first tee at Winged Foot looking for another and a place in history alongside Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods, the only two players to win three straight majors. Mickelson shared the third-round lead with Kenneth Ferrie and he led by a stroke going into the final hole.

    The Collapse: A par was all Mickelson needed to secure the victory, but his tee shot on the par-four 18th hole was way left, coming to rest in the shadow of a hospitality tent. Rather than playing the ball safely back onto the fairway, Mickelson decided to go for the green.

    His second shot hit a tree, advancing Mickelson just 25 yards nearer to the hole. His third shot plugged in a greenside bunker on the left. He blasted his fourth shot out and it carried through the green into the rough. He chipped on within 10 feet and putted in for a double bogey.

    Geoff Ogilvy, who had putted out at the 18th minutes earlier thinking he had finished second, was suddenly celebrating his first major victory in the clubhouse. Mickelson knew he had made a mistake virtually as soon as he stepped off the course, famously saying, "I'm such an idiot."

    The Aftermath: Mickelson has finished as the runner-up in the Open a record five times. He remains one of the sport's most compelling figures for his risk-taking, shot-making and candid, affable personality. He celebrates his 43rd birthday on Sunday. It's a pretty easy bet what he would like for a present.

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