The 10 Most Thrilling Finishes in Masters History

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIApril 8, 2014

The 10 Most Thrilling Finishes in Masters History

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Masters possesses a magic brought on by the rare combination of great history and even greater final moments.

    When he envisioned the majestic Augusta course, Bobby Jones wanted to create a grand gathering place for his friends, but he could never have anticipated the innumerable fantastic finishes that would ultimately help position the Masters as the greatest tournament of them all.

    With the Masters comes enormous suspense: Who will come out of the gates to win the first major of the year?  Will the winner be someone with little pedigree (Larry Mize, Doug Ford) or someone who is looking to add to his historic win total (Jack Nicklaus [6], Tiger Woods [4], Arnold Palmer [4])?

    With Tiger Woods out of his first Masters tournament in 20 years due to back surgery, this year’s event may be anyone’s to win and may lead to yet another dramatic ending. If the first quarter of the golf season is any indication, it may assuredly come down to the wire as it did at the Shell Houston Open, the Valero Texas Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Honda Classic.   

    Many of the Masters historic endings are known more for the agony of defeat than for the thrill of victory with Greg Norman on the losing end of two of these efforts.

    It is hard to ignore Doug Ford’s come-from-behind victory in 1957, Art Wall’s 1959 leap over 12 players to win or Gary Player’s championship via seven birdies on Sunday, but based on drama, imagination, luck and guile, here are the 10 most memorable finishes.

10. Sandy Lyle, 1988

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    Going into the final holes, Lyle was one back of Mark Calcavecchia and tied with Kevin Stadler, with Ben Crenshaw one back of him and Fred Couples two back.

    By the time he reached the 18th hole, he had tied Calcavecchia, and it looked like they may be headed for a playoff.

    Lyle mishit a 1-iron off the tee that slipped into a fairway bunker. What looked like disaster turned into good fortune as he lifted a perfect 7-iron out of the sand and within 10 feet of the cup.

    The subsequent birdie allowed Lyle to become the first Brit to win the Masters and the first to win on a birdie on the last hole since Arnold Palmer in 1960.

9. Nick Faldo, 1996

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    The drama here played out more like a tragedy.

    Faldo captured his third green jacket, but the fantastic finish was made possible by Greg Norman’s enormously sad collapse.

    Norman had a six-shot lead after 54 holes and a seeming lock on the tournament. But Faldo took charge on Sunday when it meant most, shooting a stellar final round of 67, while Norman lodged a woeful 40 on the back nine.

8. Byron Nelson, 1942

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    Associated Press

    If you were looking to pair any two of golf’s greatest players, it just might be Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Between them, they won 132 tournaments and 14 majors.

    In this scenario, Nelson was seeking his fourth major title, and Hogan had none. Nelson held the lead at the halfway point of the contest, but Hogan came on strong on the weekend to tie him and send them into an 18-hole playoff.

    There was already some history between the two as Nelson had beaten Hogan at the previous PGA Championship and in a playoff at the Texas Open.

    In the playoff, they exchanged the lead until Nelson pulled away down the stretch to win.

7. Bubba Watson, 2012

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    It was the hook shot heard ‘round the world that gave Bubba Watson his first green jacket and the golfing world an enormous smile.

    Buried deep in the woods on the 10th hole, he took a gap wedge and turned it 40 yards towards a hole he couldn't even see. The shot landed within 10 feet of the cup and resulted in a winning par on the second hole of a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen.

    Watson had already had a fantastic finish in his regulation round by making four straight birdies on the back nine to close with a four under 68.

    By the way, his miraculous playoff shot one-upped Oosthuizen, who had hit a double eagle on the par-five second hole from 260 yards away.

6. Jack Nicklaus, 1986

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    Joe Benton

    It had been five years since Nicklaus had won his last major, and at 46-years-old, it looked like he would never put on the green jacket again.

    For sheer drama and based on his immense popularity, Nicklaus’ sixth victory at Augusta ranks among the most spectacular wins in all of golf history, let alone at the Masters.

    In order to do so, he had to outplay Seve Ballesteros and Tom Kite, both of whom had knocked in eagles and seemingly had all of the momentum.

    But isn’t it just such adversity that made Nicklaus shine most?

    He proceeded to go eagle-birdie-birdie from Holes 15 to 17 and finished with a nine-hole score of 30, closing the door on his competitors and receiving perhaps the greatest applause in pro golf history.

5. Phil Mickelson, 2010

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    There’s bold play, and then there’s Phil Mickelson. When they came up with the phrase, “He’s going for it,” they were talking about Lefty.

    There he is in the midst of the Masters with a seemingly unplayable lie, around the bend, 207 yards from the green.

    So what does he do? Whacks the ball between two trees, over the Rae’s Creek and onto the 13th green, setting himself up for an eagle. While he missed the putt, his resulting birdie pushed him toward his third green jacket and one of the Masters’ most popular wins.

4. Charl Schwartzel, 2011

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    Charlie Riedel

    Rory McIlroy held the 54-hole lead. Then he didn't, and a slew of players filled the void.

    All eyes were poised on Adam Scott and Jason Day going down the stretch, but it was Schwartzel who quietly amassed consecutive birdies on the last four holes to not only card the lowest score of the day but become the 2011 Masters champ.

    In a final round that saw eight players with at least a share of the lead, Schwartzel emerged victorious by playing calmly, coolly and with great consistency.

    It was only his second Masters appearance, but the South African played with a poise we have rarely seen at Augusta. His 66 on Sunday was also the best round by a winner in 22 years and the first time someone won by birdying out.

3. Gene Sarazen, 1935

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    Associated Press

    The golf gods smiled on Augusta just one year after it opened for tournament play.

    At six under par, Craig Wood seemingly held a secure lead when Sarazen stepped up to a 235-yard fairway shot to the 15th green. Then he smashed a 4-wood that found the cup. It might as well have been a two-foot putt.

    His double-eagle, the rarest shot in golf, soared. Sarazen ended up tying Wood and sending the tournament into its only 36-hole playoff.

    Sarazen’s win in extra holes seemed destined at that point.

    But it was his "shot heard 'round the world" that put the Masters on the world map in what was one of the greatest ways to finish a sports competition ever.

2. Tiger Woods, 2005

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    It is easily one of the most impressive, dramatic and unthinkable golf shots in history: a chip shot off the green at 16 that swirled from the top of the green only to hang on the lip of the cup in desperation until it finally and fatefully dropped in.

    “Under the circumstances, it was one of the best shots I ever hit,” said Tiger afterwards.  

    The chip shot gave Tiger a two-shot lead, and he needed every bit of it as he bogeyed the last two holes and went into a playoff with Chris DiMarco.

    Woods went on to birdie the first playoff hole and take the championship.

    But there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that his fantastic finish actually occurred a few holes before with one of the greatest golf shots ever made.

1. Larry Mize, 1987

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    Great shots in great tournaments can make little-known players famous.

    That’s what happened to Larry Mize, who made one of the greatest clutch shots in history.

    Mize was the epitome of the underdog when he went into a playoff against two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros and the No. 1 player in the world at the time, Greg Norman.

    But Mize was buoyed by a birdie on 18, which got him into the final threesome.

    Ballesteros’ three-putt on the first playoff hole turned the battle into Norman vs. Mize, a heavyweight fighting a welterweight.

    On the next hole, Mize’s ball lay about 100 feet from the cup and off the green, while Norman’s was closer and on the fringe.

    Then Mize did the unthinkable. He lofted a sand wedge that bounced twice and rolled neatly into the cup. A stunned Norman could not follow suit.

    Mize had won and the shot of him throwing his club into the air when the ball disappeared into the cup says it all. 

    It was the most fantastic finish ever at the Masters.