A narrow loss at the Masters might be the most painful experience in professional golf.
And it might sting the most for Chris DiMarco. In 2005, he erased a three-shot final-round deficit against Tiger Woods (a two-time winner already that season) and took him to a playoff while beating the field average by more than 18 strokes over four rounds. In fact, it took Tiger’s miracle chip on the 16th hole in the final round to match DiMarco in regulation. DiMarco turned in the sixth-best Masters performance by anyone since 1970, but it wasn’t enough. He fell to Woods on the first playoff hole.
Lee Westwood is another hard-luck loser. His 2010 effort beat the field by 17 strokes — the 10th best Masters versus the field from 1970-2015 — but he still finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson.
Missing a green jacket because of another player’s charmed week must sting, but it might be even worse to cough up a big final round lead. Rory McIlroy will have many more chances to win the Masters, but his 2011 implosion stands out as one of the worst in history. Rory led a pack that included Jason Day and ‘09 champ Angel Cabrera by four shots at the start of the round and still led at the turn after going one-over on the opening nine. But after an often-replayed triple bogey from cabins on the 10th hole, a bogey on 11, and a double on 12, he was cooked.
Greg Norman has experienced both sides of this heartbreak. In 1987, Norman entered with two career Masters top-five finishes, including a T2 behind Jack Nicklaus the year before. Norman had a chance to win the 1987 event in regulation with a long birdie at the last, but missed to set up a playoff with Larry Mize and Seve Ballesteros. After Ballesteros was knocked out on the first playoff hole, Mize chipped in for birdie from off the green on the 11th hole – leaving Norman with his second of four straight top five finishes.
Norman’s Masters record was fantastic — it includes eight top fives — but he is most remembered for his dramatic collapse against Nick Faldo in 1996. Norman entered that final round up six shots on three-time winner, but he shot two-over on the opening nine while Faldo went two under to narrow the gap to two. Augusta’s back nine provides plenty of opportunities to score, but Norman followed a bogey at the 9th with three more on the back, including a double at the 12th. Another double at 16 finally sunk Norman for good.
It’s tough to judge what is worse — to play great golf only to be beaten by a truly special performance, or to blow huge lead. But if we look at the numbers, they judge the pain of DiMarco to be worst, because he faced one of the toughest tests in sports (beating Tiger Woods at his best), matched him for 72 holes, and left without the green jacket.