Every April at Augusta National brings glad tidings of a newly minted champ who played his way to glory amid the Georgia pines and azaleas.
But the Masters also serves up its share of disasters, and it can happen to anyone.
In 2016 Jordan Spieth lost his Sunday lead in less than an hour, which was yet another reminder of just how taxing Augusta National can be on the top players in the world. Without further ado, let’s revisit the top 10 Masters meltdowns that will never be lived down.
10. Roberto DeVicenzo 1968
Go ahead and cry for him, Argentina. The truth is your native son fired a 65 on Sunday that shoulda, woulda, coulda put him in a playoff with Bob Goalby. Except that DeVicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard after failing to notice that his playing partner Tommy Armor had marked him for a “4” on the 17th hole when in fact he’d made a “3.” “What a stupid I am to be wrong here,” DeVicenzo said of the clerical error, the most egregious act of self-sabotage in Masters history. Off the course, at least.
9. Greg Norman 1986
It was the best—and worst—-of years for the Aussie superstar, who led all four majors going into Sunday but came away with only a British Open win. The first of his near misses came at Augusta, where he needed par on 18 to force a playoff with Jack Nicklaus but blocked a four-iron from the fairway and made bogey. Glory to the Golden Bear. While Norman’s botched approach went largely forgotten amid all the hoopla over Nicklaus’ heroics, the Shark himself never let it go. He later called it the “biggest regret” of his career.
8. Ken Venturi 1956
“Did I choke?” Venturi asked in his autobiograghy. Well, let’s consider the evidence. At 24, and competing as an amateur, Venturi built a four-shot lead going into Sunday. In a wind-blown final round, he hit 15 greens in regulation but three-putted six times and stumbled to an 80, losing by one stroke to Jackie Burke Jr., who played the entire event without a three-jack. No amateur has ever won the Masters. A half-century later, no amateur has come as close as Venturi. Did he choke? “If you go by my score, you can make that argument,” he wrote. “I choose to look at it differently.”
7. Jordan Spieth 2016
Winning wire-to-wire is a high-wire act. One misstep and it all comes crashing down. As he made the turn on Sunday at Augusta, Spieth was on track to become the first player ever to the pull off the feat back-to-back in any major. Leading by five with nine to play, he was operating at a dizzying height. Bogeys at 10 and 11 were slips, but they hardly seemed fatal. Then came catastrophe on the 12th. A botched tee ball in the drink, followed by a brain-cramp drop-and-chunk produced a disastrous quadruple-bogey. Spieth tried to right himself but there was no recovery. As the golf world gasped at a hero in free-fall, Danny Willet swooped in to steal the show.
6. Rory McIlroy 2011
The duck-hook he hit on 10 didn’t take McIlroy out of the event. Not exactly. But it did take viewers to a deeply wooded place near the doorstep of guest cabins rarely seen on TV. A short while later, Rory walked off with a triple-bogey, which he backed up with a bogey on the tough 11th, followed by a four-putt double on the par-three 12th. By the time his drive on 13 found Rae’s Creek, the four-shot lead he’d had to start the day was long gone. So were his chances. “I’ll come out stronger for it,” McIlroy insisted after shooting 80, and he did, bouncing back two months later to win the U.S. Open by eight.
5. Ed Sneed 1979
Teeing off on Sunday with a five-shot lead, Sneed played poised golf through 15 holes. Too bad they require you to complete 18. Game of inches? In Sneed’s case, it was more like millimeters. He three-putted 16 for bogey, seared the edge of the cup with a short par bid on 17, then left a par putt on 18 teetering on the lip. His nano-misses were a big gift to Masters rookie Fuzzy Zoeller, who beat Sneed and Tom Watson with a birdie on the second hole of sudden death.
4. Scott Hoch 1989
You can call it a meltdown. It looked more like a mind-glitch. Facing a two-foot putt on 10 that would have sealed a playoff win, Hoch drew back his club and . . .didn’t even hit the hole. The shocking miss gave life to Nick Faldo, who buried a clinching birdie on the par-four 11th. “In the end, it really doesn’t make that much difference,” Hoch said, unconvincingly, years later. “When you’re dead and gone, it doesn’t make that much of difference.” Maybe so, but we all know what the first line of his obit will be.
3. Kenny Perry 2009
Up two with two to play, Perry had one arm in the green jacket. But that’s no way to swing a club. Over the next four holes, including two in sudden death, Perry missed the green with short iron approaches, a painful stretch low-lighted by a bladed chip on 17. Angel Cabrea won the tournament, but Perry won hearts with his frank post-round reflections. “It just seems like when I get down to those deals, I can’t seem to execute. Great players make it happen, and your average players don’t.”
2. Curtis Strange 1985
Strange week indeed for the future back-to-back U.S. Open winner. Having misfired on Thursday with an opening round 80, Strange found his swing, then found himself leading by two on Sunday. Thinking birdie on the reachable par-five 13th, Strange made a mess in more ways than one, dunking his four-wood approach into Rae’s Creek, then splash-chunking a wedge from the water with his next shot. When he backed up that bogey with another rinsed-ball 6on the par-five 15th, his long, strange trip was pretty much over. Bernhard Langer wound up with the win.
1. Greg Norman 1996
Never has a Masters produced so many cringes. As every school child knows, Norman teed off on Sunday with a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo. But a round that should have played out like a coronation morphed grotesquely into a funeral march. After three straight bogeys on holes 9 through 11, Norman’s lead was gone, and so was the fiery light in his eyes. A water ball on 12, and he became a dead man walking, zombie-golfing his way to a 78 as Faldo played the role of merciless undertaker. The closing holes were a grim formality, the televised administering of last-rites.