Top 10 Most Memorable Masters of the Last 50 Years

By: Jay Flemma


"If you want excitement, the Masters is the benchmark, it owns the freehold." - FoxSports Broadcaster Steve Czaban

It's Arnie hitching up his pants, it's Jack raising his putter in exaltation, it's Tiger fist-pumping and another improbable shot drops in the cup, and it's the pines ringing with the cheering as the newly-minted winner dons his green jacket and begins planning next year's dinner.

Most of all, the Masters is the most exciting tournament in golf. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus's first Masters win, let's take a look back at the most magical Masters of the last 50 years.

10. Ben Crenshaw in 1995

Everybody loves Gentle Ben. When he first came out on tour after a scintillating amateur career, he was hailed as "the cute Jack Nicklaus." (What did that make Jack??!!) He had a flock of shapely adorables called "Ben's Wrens," the smoothest swing this side of Sweetwater, and the putting stroke of Harry Houdini himself.

But he always had a tough time at the majors. When it got down to the nitty-gritty, Ben suddenly folded faster than a Chinese laundry. He'd been runner-up five times, and at least once in each of the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open, and PGA Championship. Then came 1984 when he did was expected of him: win a putting contest on the back nine at Augusta.

Cut to 1990 and there's Ben, two years shy of 40. He hadn't won in a while, and entered the tournament as an afterthought, one step short of being relegated to ceremonial status. Suddenly he materialized out of a black-and-white movie reel to steal every heart in golfdom playing for the memory of his friend and mentor Harvey Penick, who had passed just days before.

It was Penick who gave Ben one last putting lesson before Harvey left us to go play the Great Golf Course in the Sky: "Take two practice strokes on the green before you putt. Don't let the head of the club pass your hands on the stroke."

Harvey left out one last instruction: "Then put on the green jacket." Ben all but ran the table on the back nine Sunday, one-putting the ninth, 12th, 13th, 16th and 17th for a closing 68 and a one-shot victory over Davis Love. His tears for his friend were every bit as poignant and moving as Bubba Watson's last year.

9. Bubba in 2012

It's a good thing Louis Oosthuizen owns a major because to lose a Masters he had won and where he carded a double-eagle on Sunday might decimate a lesser man. But Bubba fired a sparkling 32 on home half then won the playoff with the shot of the century: a screaming hook with a wedge from out of the woods off pine straw to a tucked pin with the green jacket in the balance.

Could he repeat? Maybe. If he does repeat, let's hope he does dinner better than he did this year. I could get the same meal at Roscoe Chicken and Waffle House in L.A. any time I want. (Kidding! Kidding!)

8. Gary Player in 1978

Here was another well-decorated champion thought to have been entering the winter of his career, who instead drank deeply from the fountain of youth to win his third Masters title. With a final-round 64, including seven birdies on the final 10 holes, Player rallied from seven strokes back the last day to outrun defending champion Tom Watson, reigning U.S. Open champion Hubert Green, and tour veteran Rod Funseth. Player's 64 is still the lowest final round score by any Masters champion.

7. Larry Mize in 1987

Remember that poker movie "Rounders?" When Matt Damon says, "If you look around the table and you can't tell who the sucker is, it's you"? Don't go telling that to Larry Mize. He looked to be the squire at the joust with heavyweights Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman staring him down in a three-way Masters playoff. Mize was supposed to win little stuff like Citrus Opens and Life Insurance Classics. But with that 100-foot pitch-in . . . whoops! Move over George Archer and Charles Coody, and tell Gay Brewer the news: You've go company in the "How did I get here?" file.

Meanwhile, the green jacket went well with that lavender and violet shirt he wore that day Talk about seeing a shark on a mountaintop . . .

6. Tom Watson in 1977

We always remember Watson and Nicklaus's 1977 British Open "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry (where their nearest pursuers were 10 shots back), and Watson's chip-in at 17 to steal the 1982 U.S. Open from Jack at Pebble Beach. But the first of their three storied battles was at the 1977 Masters when Jack shot a final-round 66 to vault into contention. But Watson stayed steady, closed with a 67, and held on for a two-shot victory.

5. Phil in 2004

Phinally! After multiple heartbreaks and close calls, Phil Mickelson won his first major championship in epic fashion, and roaring on the pines rang from Augusta, Ga., to Augusta, Me. Down three with six to play to an invincible-looking Ernie Els, Phil birdied five of the last six holes to sprint past the stunned "Big Easy" and, after sinking the winning 15-foot putt on 18, showed the world his impressive four-inch vertical leap. Funniest victory dance ever!

Poor Ernie! He shot a brilliant 67 to close the tournament, including eagles at eight and 13. But what can you say? Even that sterling effort got outplayed at the end. Phil became the fourth player in Masters history to win the tournament by sinking a birdie putt at the 72nd hole, joining Arnold Palmer (1960), Sandy Lyle (1988) and Mark O'Meara, (1998). Though Els may never win a Masters in his career and forever remember this one as "the one that got away," he has nothing to hang his head over. This was just the magic of the Masters in full ascension - a miracle Sunday charge for the ages.

4. Woods in 2001

Winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive professional major title, Tiger Woods captured the 2001 Masters with a blistering four-day total of 16-under. Woods's nearest pursuers were mega-stars David Duval (274) and Phil Mickelson (275), so this was anything but a cakewalk over a bunch of chumps (though everyone else looked like one when compared to Woods at the time; being consistently outshone by him was an occupational hazard to a pro golfer back then).

It was sports dominance of the highest order. Generations will pass before the feat is ever equaled or surpassed. Too bad he couldn't marry his putter and take his driver for a mistress, he might have passed Jack's record by now.

3. Nicklaus in 1975

Hey, Steven Soderbergh! Let's get Brad Pitt to play Jack, George Clooney will be great as that wisenheimer Johnny Miller, and rope in Andy Garcia to play a hapless and surly Tom Weiskopf. (Whoopie Goldberg can play the caddie.) It'll a smash hit! Box office lightning!

Seriously though - three of the four best players in the world at that time put on a birdie-palooza down the stretch before Nicklaus finally pulled away with a Tom Watson-esque bomb at 16, winning his fifth green jacket. The war dance Jack and his caddie did when that putt fell was a quintessential Masters time capsule moment.

As an aside, nobody owns 16 like Nicklaus.

By the way, for those of you scoring at home, Lee Trevino was the fourth best player of that era, but because he couldn't draw the ball he almost never contended at Augusta.

2. Woods in 1997

Hello, World. After opening with a dismal 4-over 40 on the front nine Thursday, Woods steamrolled everyone on his way to a record-setting performance, breaking the 72-hole aggregate scoring record, the record for largest margin of victory, and the record for youngest winner. It was sparkling second- and third-round scores of 66-65 that enabled him to run away from the field and make Sunday both a victory lap and a coronation.

For Pete's sake! He had a nine-shot lead going into Sunday! Only Greg Norman could have blown that. It ushered in a new dynasty in pro golf. Not long afterwards, Woods would likewise decimate St. Andrews and Pebble Beach with similarly dominating, record-shattering performances.

1. Nicklaus in 1986

"Jack killed more foreigners than Eisenhower," quipped Dan Jenkins, referring to the day Nicklaus hung the moon, the stars and the sun, winning his sixth and final green jacket after a final-round 65. With Seve, Norman, Langer, Lyle and Price all ahead of him, "Jack needed a visa just to get on the leaderboard," but a back-nine 30, including a sizzling 5-under stretch on 13-17, powered him past the entire United Nations Security Council. If only our government could do the same thing.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.


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