Every Masters is great in its own right, but let’s face it: Some are far greater than others. Here are our 10 favorite Masters, starting from the absolute best ever. (Yeah, you know the one.)
1986. Jack Nicklaus, past his prime at 46; with his son on the bag; with Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite and Greg Norman lurking — well, you know the rest. Ballesteros went swimming on 15. Norman did just enough to lose. Kite slid to second. And Nicklaus came home in 30 for a 65 and his sixth jacket and first major championship title in six years. Grown men wept.
1975. A Masters that began with Lee Elder becoming the first African-American to tee it up — he missed the cut — ended with a three-man race among the three biggest names in golf. In the last Masters to use an 18-hole Monday playoff, Jack Nicklaus made sure it wasn’t needed, holing a 40-foot birdie putt on 16 to nip Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by a shot.
1997. It wasn’t just that Tiger Woods tore apart the course in ways no one had ever imagined, and won by 12 shots (let’s hear it for runner-up Tom Kite! Again!), and became the first person of color to don the green jacket. This victory, which Woods celebrated with a long and tearful embrace with his father Earl, signaled the beginning of the Tiger Era: 14 major championship titles over a span of just 12 years. Big.
1954. Amateur 54-hole leader Billy Joe Patton self-destructed with a 7 at the 13th hole, leaving the stage to Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. The two legends tied and went to an 18-hole Monday playoff, where Snead won 70-71.
2004. If Phil Mickelson hadn’t won this Masters for his first major title, he might never have enjoyed a career commensurate with his talent. In the most important two hours of his career, he started to find it with a birdie at the par-3 12th hole, kept right on going, and with one last birdie at 18, Mickelson himself took flight — sort of — with a vertical jump of at least an inch. He would go from zero to five major titles in a span of 10 years.
1942. With the club on the verge of bankruptcy and the tournament on the verge of a three-year hiatus because of World War II, Byron Nelson beat Ben Hogan in sudden death to stoke interest and give everyone a reason to start the tournament up again in ’46. Had Herm Keiser won in ’42, as he did in ’46, he might’ve killed it off for good.
1995. Just days after serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of his longtime mentor Harvey Penick, Ben Crenshaw, on the downside of his career, cleaned up on the slick greens and honored his late coach with an emotional win for the ages, edging Davis Love III by one. Pass the Kleenex.
1960. Ken Venturi sat in Butler Cabin with the lead, but the people’s choice Arnold Palmer birdied the last two holes to beat him. (Arnie’s Army would go into overdrive two months later, when Palmer drove the par-4 opener and won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills.) America loved Arnold.
2012. A Masters with two of the greatest shots ever hit: Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross at the par-5 second hole, the South African using a 4-iron to jar his second shot from 253 yards and record the first double eagle at the second hole in tournament history; and Bubba Watson’s wedge from the pine straw right of the 10th fairway, his ball banking so hard in midair as to recall the days of Chuck Yeager. Take a bow, Bubba.
2011. Third-round leader Rory McIlroy collapsed. (His famous post-round tweet began: “Well that wasn’t the plan!”) In his absence, eight men grabbed at least a share of the lead on the back nine. Jason Day was going to win! Wait. No. Check that. Adam Scott! Or was Tiger going to win? No! At the end of a wild day, it was South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel making history with four straight closing birdies to seize the green jacket. Whew!