By Jason Iannone
The 2014 Masters is almost upon us, marking one of the few times of the year that polite society can talk about balls, holes, and wood without giggling like 11-year-old schoolchildren. Impolite society however, will continue to guffaw every time.
Since its inception in 1934, the Masters has produced many a great moment (not the least of which was our ability to make that joke up above). But the laws of the Universe dictate we must pick only five moments to gush about. So gush we shall. Here are the times that stood out the most:
5. Jack Nicklaus Wins the 1986 Masters at Age 46
Let’s kick things off with a moment that proved once and for all that golf is not just a young person’s game. Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer to ever be consistently confused with a famous crazy-man actor, was 46 years old in 1986, and largely considered washed-up. He was behind by as much as five strokes, hadn’t won a Masters in over 10 years, and wasn’t predicted to win much of anything else for the rest of his career. If he even had a rest of a career, that is. Plenty assumed this Masters would be his last, and he would quietly fade away after a particularly humiliating loss.
Nicklaus had other plans, however, playing some of the finest golf of his life and silencing his critics by finishing with a -9, good enough to best second-place Greg Norman by a single stroke. While this was indeed the final championship of Nicklaus’s career, he went out swinging, and did so better than everybody else.
4. Tiger Woods Dominates the 1997 Masters
Of course, golf can also be a young man’s game, as Tiger Woods proved very early on. In 1997, shortly after turning pro, the 21-year-old golfing prodigy absolutely smothered his competition en route to his first Masters victory.
His final score was a 270, or 18-under-par. That in itself would be absolutely amazing, but what was even absolutely amazing-er is that the second-place finisher, Tom Kite, only managed a -6. Tiger Woods had won by 12 strokes, a Masters record and the biggest margin of victory in any major golf tourney since 1862.
That record has since been broken, incidentally, also by Tiger Woods, when he won the 2000 US Open by 15 strokes and was the only player to finish below par. Consider this a gentle reminder that, before the Worst Thanksgiving Ever, Tiger Woods used to be a golf god.
3. Greg Norman Chokes Away the 1996 Masters
And now for a moment whose central figure would love to forget about, only losers like us won’t let him. For all his career accolades, Greg Norman has never won a Masters. In fact, his attempts at doing so were often filled with last-second heartbreak, when it looked like Norman had pulled it off, only to see somebody else snatch away the jacket on the final hole.
His worst failing came at the 1996 Masters, where Norman appeared to have his first green jacket in the bag. He was up by six shots going into the final round, which seems like a large enough safety net for anybody to comfortably land upon. Not ol’ Greg though! He responded to his comfortable lead by shooting a putrid 78 in that round, or six-above-par. Unfortunately for him, nobody else bothered to suck alongside him, and he ultimately lost the Masters by a brutal five strokes.
Yep, in just 18 holes, Norman’s score dropped by 11 points. You have to admit, that’s pretty damned impressive. Even if we tried to lose that badly, we’d probably peter out after dropping eight or nine slots.
2. Craig Wood Wire-to-Wires the 1941 Masters
Major golf tournaments like the Masters are typically four rounds long. Usually, whoever comes out on top at the end was behind at some point. But on rare occasions we do see a wire-to-wire victory, when somebody starts out in the lead and never lets up until they sink their final putt and win it all.
The first such occasion was one of the more memorable, mainly because it was the first. Craig Wood shot a 280, or eight-under-par, and won the Masters by three strokes. But more importantly, he always led. Byron Nelson tied him briefly in the final round but couldn’t pull ahead. Craig went on to win and immortalize himself among the sport’s legends.
There have been three more wire-to-wire finishes in Masters history, but you never forget your first, especially when that winner has a last name that brings out the immature gigglefest inside every overgrown child currently reading this.
1. Gary Player Rockets to the 1978 Championship at the Last Minute
And now for perhaps the greatest comeback in Masters history, the complete opposite of a Craig Wood, who had no need for comebacks. Gary Player went into the final round behind by seven strokes, which is normally another way of saying “screwed.” But Player decided he would have none of that, and shot a 64 in that round, or eight-under-par. Nobody else gained enough ground to overtake him, and Player achieved an amazing come-from-behind victory.
Just to make his feat even more impressive, most of the comeback happened in the second half of that final round. In the final 10 holes, Player scored seven birdies, which accounts for seven of his eight shots under par. Proof positive that it doesn’t matter how you start the race, it’s how well you finish it.