2011 U.S. Open: Power Ranking the Most Exciting Finishes in Tournament History
The U.S. Open. The tournament that makes the best players in the world look like your Average Joes. The course is set up tougher than the American Bar Association makes the bar exam, greens are slicker than Michael Jordan's bald head and the rough eats up golf balls like I devour a Philly Cheesesteak.
The star of these tournaments often times is not the players, but it is the course itself. Think of some of the greatest tests: Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Bethpage Black, Medinah and Pinehurst No. 2.
This week the U.S. Open heads to Washington D.C., specifically Congressional Country Club, home of the PGA Tour's AT&T National.
As the field of players embark on the greatest test in golf this week—The U.S. Open—it is appropriate to take a step back and remember some of the greatest finishes in U.S. Open history.
Now, keep in mind, readers, that we are NOT talking about the greatest performances (ala Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach). We are talking about the most EXCITING finishes in U.S. Open history.
In my mind, this also means that just because we had a playoff one year does not make it an exciting finish in tournament history. I went with tournaments that still resonate with fans generations later, not because of one iconic moment or shot, but because of the way that the tournament ended.
Let's get started, shall we?
Missed the Cut
While these tournaments came close, they fell just short of making this list. In no particular order:
2001 - Walking down the 18th fairway at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Retief Goosen held a one-shot lead over clubhouse leader Mark Brooks and playing partner Stewart Cink. Cink, putting first, lagged his putt up to the hole.
Rather than let Goosen putt, Cink decided to putt out to let Goosen finish last for victory, as is customary in the golf world. Cink missed the two-footer, putting him one-shot behind Brooks.
Cink's face is now timeless in golf history as he watched in horror as Goosen three-putted for bogey from 15 feet, placing him in a Monday playoff with Brooks for the trophy.
If Goosen's Monday victory had been anything but the least entertaining playoff in U.S. Open history, this tournament would be on that list.
2009 - Some may disagree, but I thought this was one of the most entertaining finishes in U.S. Open history, even though Lucas Glover ended up winning by two shots in a relatively unremarkable fashion.
On the back nine on Sunday at Bethpage Black, New York's adopted son Phil Mickelson was trying to charge toward his first U.S. Open title. Add in the unlikely—and that's an understatement— emergence of David Duval as a contender for the title, and you had two players that the public would have loved to see win.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen.
1984 - Tied for the lead on the 18th hole at Winged Foot, golf's greatest bridesmaid, Greg Norman, was tied for the lead. Facing a 45 foot putt for par, Norman dropped it in to the crowd's delight.
Co-leader Fuzzy Zoeller waved his white towel in surrender in one of golf's iconic moments. Unfortunately, the playoff was far from iconic, as Zoeller dominated Norman in an eight shot victory.
1955 - At the time, Hogan—and the rest in attendance at the Olympic Club in San Francisco—figured the all-time great had wrapped his record fifth U.S. Open title. Little did "The Hawk" know that a youngster was coming for him.
In one of the game's greatest upsets, Jack Fleck finished birdie-par-par-birdie to tie the great Ben Hogan.
Hogan, possibly surprised by the fact that he had to play again on Monday, lost by three in the playoff.
1931 - In perhaps the longest golf tournament of all-time, Billy Burke outlasted George von Elm in a 72-hold playoff. Yes, you read that right, a 72 hole playoff.
Back in those days, the players had to play a 36 hole playoff. Since Burke and von Elm tied after the first one, they had to get after it again the next day.
1946 - Tied after 72 holes, the great Byron Nelson, Vic Ghezzi and Lloyd Mangrum had to play an 18-hole Monday playoff at the Canterbury Golf Club outside of Cleveland. This was the first U.S. Open played in five years due to WWII.
Shockingly, all three tied in the first playoff round when all shot a 72. Playing their second round of the day in a violent thunderstorm, Mangrum shot a fantastic 72 while Nelson and Ghezzi finished one shot back.
11. 1994: Els Breaks Through in a Marathon
It seems only fitting that we include the champion of the last major championship held at Congressional here.
Heading into Sunday's final round, it looked like Ernie Els would gain his first major without much trouble. With a three-shot lead, Els needed to putz his way around Oakmont Country Club to win his first major and become golf's "Next Big Thing."
Unfortunately for him, his final round 73 placed him in a three way tie with Loren Roberts and one of the best players in the world: Colin Montgomerie.
In a playoff that was exciting solely for its horrible play (the players hit five greens in regulation in the first five holes COMBINED), Els and the slick putting Roberts tied with matching 74's, leaving Montgomerie in the dust.
On the second playoff hole, Els persevered as he made a solid par in sudden death 92 holes after he started. When Roberts bogeyed the hole, the big South African had his first of three major titles.
10. 1962: The New King Is Crowned
This list has to include a showdown of two of the game's greatest players, right?
In the early 1960's, Arnold Palmer was golf's greatest player and showman. His reign was about to end.
In 1962, Arnold Palmer held a three shot lead heading into Oakmont's par-5 ninth hole. He went for it in two in order to put the tournament away. He missed it right, flubbed a chip and failed to get up and down from there. He made a bogey, and by the time he reached the 13th hole, he was tied with a 22-year-old professional named Jack Nicklaus.
The two finished the day tied and went on to an 18 hole playoff, kind of like the one we've wanted to see out of Mickelson and Tiger all these years.
Nicklaus would go on to win the playoff over Palmer the next day, and the rest, as they say, is history.
9. 1995: Pavin Brings It Home at Shinnecock
This shot single-handedly brought this tournament onto the list. It may be that it is one of the shots that really made me fall in love with the game, but who cares? It's my list.
Leading Greg Norman and Tom Lehman by two shots at Shinnecock Hills—one of the toughest courses to ever hold a U.S. Open—Corey Pavin faced a 209 yard shot over bunkers at the 18th hole.
With a 4-wood, a beautiful swing, an awkward run down the fairway and one lucky bounce, Pavin wiped away the "Best Player to Never Win a Major" title.
The crowd went insane, calling his name everywhere as he walked toward the title. The little man missed the putt, but tapped in for par and walked away with the title.
8. 1966: Arnie Lays an Egg on the Back Nine
In stark contrast to the No. 2 tournament on this list, Arnold Palmer performed one of the biggest chokes in golf history in 1966 at Olympic.
Standing on the 10th tee on Sunday with a seven shot lead over Hall of Famer Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer thought he had the tournament won.
After a bogey on the first hole, Palmer weathered the storm and stood on the 15th tee with a five shot lead.
Incredibly, he let it slip away. Palmer doubled the 15th, doubled the 16th and bogeyed the 16th, limping to a back side 39. Meanwhile, Casper shot a back nine 32 and erased the deficit, forcing a playoff the next day.
Once again, Palmer stood on the 10th tee with a lead, this time two shots. Once again, he blew it, losing by six on the back nine to Casper. His 73 paled in comparison to Casper's 67.
Palmer would never win a U.S. Open again.
7. Hale Drops a Bomb and Then Wins a Grueling Playoff
I can't believe I couldn't find a video of this one, but oh well.
Staring at a 45-foot birdie putt on Medinah's 18th green, Hale Irwin needed to make the putt to force a Monday playoff with relatively obscure golfer Mike Donald.
Already a two-time U.S. Open champion, the 45-year-old Irwin was considered to be on his last legs as a professional golfer.
Lucky for him, fate was on his side.
Irwin drained the putt, and when he did, he decided to take a victory lap around the 18th green before heading in to sign his scorecard.
The next day, Donald and Irwin engaged in a historic duel, tying in the playoff with matching 74's.
On the first sudden death hole, Irwin made an improbable birdie, which gave him his third U.S. Open title. It was an appropriate swansong for the worthy champion.
7. 2006: What a Stupid Mickelson Is
This tournament isn't on our list for what a player did so much as it is for what a player failed to do.
After making a par on 17 after receiving a free drop from a trash can, Phil Mickelson stood on the 18th tee at Winged Foot with a one shot lead. After finishing second three times in his career, it seemed that Lefty was finally poised to win the U.S. Open, his third major title in a row.
His head got in the way.
Having swung the driver horribly all day, it would have made sense to pull out 3-wood. Mickelson pulled driver over his caddie's objections.
After a drive that went so far left it hit the sponsors tents, Mickelson should have punched out into the fairway, hit it on the green and two-putted for bogey to get into a playoff with Geoff Ogilvy.
In true Mickelson fashion, Lefty went for broke, trying to hit a hard eight iron over the trees onto the green. The ball ended up about 20 yards in front of him.
He got the next one into a greenside bunker, but failed to get up and down, taking a double bogey and gift-wrapping the title to Ogilvy for his first major.
Lefty is perhaps the U.S. Open's most tragic figure, and he added a fifth runner up finish in 2009 at Bethpage.
Here's hoping he can turn around the misfortunes this year at Congressional.
6. 1982: Watson Chips Past Nicklaus
One of the greatest shots in professional golf history, Tom Watson was tied with Jack Nicklaus heading into the 17th at Pebble Beach.
Watson smacked a 2-iron just off the back edge of the green and was left in quite the dangerous situation. A tough little chip, anything but the softest of touch could result in a costly bogey and cost him the tournament.
Using a sand wedge, the ball came out softly and rolled right in. Nicklaus made his par, but this and a birdie on 18 gave Watson his only U.S. Open title.
To this day, Watson claims he knew he was going to make this chip. I'll let you be the judge.
4. 1913: Ouimet Shocks the World
In 1913, golf was largely dominated by European professionals. John McDermott won the first U.S. Open title for an American in 1911, but caddie/amateur Francis Ouimet's victory in 1913 at Brookline in Boston placed golf on the American public's map of sports that mattered.
Perhaps the world's greatest golfer at the time, Englishman Harry Vardon had already won five British Opens and the 1900 U.S. Open. He must have been surprised to see fellow Englishman Ted Ray and 20 year old Ouimet standing atop the leaderboard with him going into the final round.
All three players shot a 79, setting up an 18 hole playoff the next day. Ouimet's presence made national headlines even though the Englishmen—especially Vardon—were heavily favored.
Ouimet shocked the world the next day with a two under par 72 to beat Vardon by five and Ray by six. His name lives on in immortality as one of the greatest upsets, if not the greatest upset, in golf history.
3. 1999: Payne's Last Stand
Man, how much does golf miss the man with the knickers?
Even if Payne Stewart hadn't tragically died in a plane crash shortly after this tournament, this image would still be ingrained in golf fans' minds forever.
Unfortunately, it was the last iconic moment we ever had with one of the games most popular players ever.
In 1999, the first ever U.S. Open at Pinehurst was shaping up for an epic final round. Heading into Sunday, Payne Stewart led, but Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, David Duval and Tiger Woods were all within three shots of the lead.
To add more drama, Mickelson was playing with a beeper on him, as wife Amy was expecting their first child at any minute. If it had gone off, Mickelson swore he was going to leave the tournament.
What a round it was.
The leaderboard was in constant flux throughout the day, but Stewart got to the 18th with a one-shot lead. But he missed the green and had a 15-foot putt for par to win the tournament.
With Mickelson on the green in two and a surefire par in his grasp, Stewart lined up the potential winning putt.
He drained it and celebrated in epic fashion, including grabbing Mickelson's face and yelling "You're going to be a father!"
It was one of the most emotional moments in golf history, and when Stewart passed away four months later, it became a moment that no one will ever forget.
2. 1960: Arnie's Greatest Charge
In 1960, Arnold Palmer had already established himself as one of the all-time greats. The smooth swinging, good looking Palmer had taken the game of golf's popularity to never before seen heights.
But in 1960, Palmer stood on the first tee at Cherry Hills in Denver three shots behind both the great Ben Hogan and a 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus. Another player, Mike Souchak, was an astonishing seven shots ahead.
One swing started Arnie's charge to the title.
On the 364 yard first hole, Palmer smashed a driver onto the green. He two putted for birdie, chipped in on the second hole for another and ended up going on a run that may be the greatest under pressure in history.
He birdied six of the first seven holes and shot a 30 on the front nine. Nicklaus was no slouch himself, shooting a 32. Ben Hogan was still right there too, and the crowd was rooting for the aging superstar to head toward a fifth U.S. Open.
But on 17, Hogan hit his third shot in the water on a par-5, made bogey and dropped out of contention.
Nicklaus' putter failed him, and he made two costly three putts on the back nine, in addition to bogeying the 18th. He stumbled to a back nine 39.
Palmer, on the other hand, shot a one under 35 on the back nine for a two shot victory. Incredibly, it was his only U.S. Open victory, as Nicklaus would get the best of him in years to come.
1. 2008: Tiger Goes Toe to Toe with Rocco in the Greatest Duel Ever
The best golfer in the world.
Basically on a broken leg.
A 31 including two eagles on Friday to move into contention.
A front nine 30 on Saturday.
One of the most chilling putts in history on Sunday to force a playoff.
Against a player loved by fans.
Who was so far down in the world ranking that he had to go through qualifying.
The best one-on-one duel of all time.
Watch the video.
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