The 13 Unluckiest Breaks in Golf History

1 of 13 Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

1. Jean Van de Velde, 1999 British Open

Admittedly, the Frenchman made some boneheaded decisions to put him in position to lose his three-shot lead on the final hole. But bad luck finished him off. When Van de Velde hit a 2-iron at the grandstand, thinking he’d be safe from the water and get a free drop, he never imagined it would bounce off the railing and arc into the deepest rough on the course. It did and one trip to the water, triple-bogey and playoff later, all was lost.
2 of 13 AP/Charlie Ridel

2. Tiger Woods, 2013 Masters

Chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional majors, Woods arrived at the par-5 15th hole in the second round tied for the lead—and about to grab it, after striking a near-perfect wedge from 87 yards. Instead, it clanked off the flagstick and scooted into the water hazard fronting the green. An improper drop, not cleared up and ruled on until the next day, gave him an 8, rather than the 4 he would have likely made. He finished four shots back of Adam Scott.
3 of 13 Neil Leifert/SI

3. Roberto De Vicenzo, 1968 Masters

After De Vicenzo bogied the 72nd hole, he assumed he had tied Bob Goalby and the two would play off the next day. Unfortunately, his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, mistakenly marked that De Vicenzo had made a 4 on the 17th instead of the 3 he actually made. De Vicenzo signed his card without noticing the error. Moments later it was brought to light. The rules of golf stated he had to keep the higher score, once he signed for it. “Such a stupid I am,” said the 45-year-old.
4 of 13 Getty

4. Phil Mickelson, 2012 Masters

It’s hard to feel sorry for Lefty, given he already had three Masters wins. Yet in Van de Veldian fashion, he cut a 4-iron into the grandstand in the fourth round while near the lead. Instead of a free drop from a cushy lie, his ball caromed off a railing and dribbled into an area of dense trees and bamboo. He would make a triple-bogey. “That’s the worst break in Phil’s career by a mile,” said his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay.
5 of 13 AP

5. Jackie Pung, 1957 U.S. Women’s Open

Proving that women can be just as unlucky -- or neglectful -- as men, the Hawaiian golfer apparently had won the tournament by one over Betsy Rawls at Winged Foot’s East course. She embraced her 15-year-old daughter as the crowd saluted her. Her celebration was short-lived. Her playing partner, Betty Jameson, marked down a 5 for Pung’s play on the 4th hole, when she actually made 6. By signing for a score lower than she actually made, she was disqualified.
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6. Byron Nelson, 1946 U.S. Open

In his final season of tournament golf before his retirement, Lord Byron, pictured at the 1946 Masters, was close to the lead in the 3rd round amid huge crowds at Cleveland’s Canterbury Golf Club. After Nelson hit his lay-up second at the par-5 13th, the gallery swarmed. Nelson’s caddie tried to duck under the ropes, tripped and accidentally stepped on Nelson’s ball. Nelson was slapped with a one-stroke penalty. He eventually earned a playoff -- and lost. If not for the misstep by his caddie, Nelson would have exited the game on top.
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7. Hubert Green, 1978 Masters

Gary Player had finished his 4th round early, firing a 64 to take the lead. Only Hubert Green could tie him. Green hit a superb 8-iron approach to three and a half feet at 18. He took his stance over the putt, then backed away. Nerves? No, he had heard the voice of CBS Radio’s Jim Kelly. Green resettled over the putt. He pushed it slightly -- and missed.
8 of 13 Keystone

8. Harry Bradshaw, 1949 British Open

The Irishman led the Open with a first-round 68 at England’s Royal St. George’s and led off round 2 with four 4s. At the par-4 5th, he sliced his drive into the rough and his ball wound up lodged in a broken beer bottle. Unsure of how to proceed and unwilling to wait for an official, Bradshaw hacked away, shutting his eyes at impact. The ball advanced 25 yards. Clearly unnerved, he made double-bogey, on his way to a 77. He wound up tying Bobby Locke for the title, but lost in the playoff, thanks to a broken beer bottle.
9 of 13 Jacqueline Duvoisin /Sports Illustrated

9. T.C. Chen, 1985 U.S. Open

Following the first double-eagle in U.S. Open history during the first round, Taiwan’s T.C. Chen was seemingly in command. It all unraveled in rainy round 4. Lodged in dense rough, Chen double-hit his escape effort. Penalized one stroke for the double-hit, Chen made 8. He would lose to Andy North by one shot. His mournful assessment of what happened: “I make double-par.”
10 of 13 Stan Badz/PGA Tour

10. Joe Daley, 2000 PGA Tour Qualifying School

Journeyman Joe (“I’m not John”) Daley hoped tosurvive the grueling six-round Q-School and advance to the PGA Tour in 2001. He missed by one stroke, thanks to a four-foot putt on the 18th hole of round 4 that hit the back of the cup—but not the bottom. Due to a cup liner that had dislodged, the ball hit the top edge of the liner and bounced straight back to him. He never did qualify for the tour after that.
11 of 13 Carl Iwasaki/Sports Illustrated

11. Jim Nelford, 1984 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am

The promising young Canadian had yet to win on the PGA Tour, but after Hale Irwin, pictured, hooked his shot into the Pacific Ocean left of Pebble Beach’s 18th hole, he thought he had notched a victory. Instead, Irwin’s ball hit a rock and bounced back into the fairway. Irwin would make birdie, then win the playoff on the second hole. A year and a half later, Nelford badly injured his arm in a waterskiing accident. He would never win a Tour event.

12. Bobby Cruickshank, 1934 U.S. Open

One shot out of the lead at Merion in the final round, Cruickshank struck a poor iron to the 11th hole, but the ball bounced out of the brook by hitting a rock and remained safely in play. Grateful, he tossed his wedge airborne and exalted, but the wedge struck him on the head (3 Stooges style), knocking him down, dazed and bloodied. He recovered to continue, but finished two shots back.
13 of 13 Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto

13. Richard Boxall, 1991 British Open

The British golfer suffered perhaps the worst break of all, because it was an actual break. Three shots behind leader Ian Baker-Finch when he reached the ninth tee in the third round, Boxall swung, then fell to the ground, screaming in agony. Spectators and playing partner Colin Montgomerie had heard an audible crack—“like a sack of potatoes splitting,” Boxall said years later. He had snapped the shin bone in his left leg. An ambulance carted Boxall to the hospital and missed the next 10 months.