Seve’s up-and-down from a car park. Tiger’s crazy cut shot at Olympia Fields. Phil’s countless phenomenal floppers. Our golf insiders—11 Tour stars, two TV analysts, and three major winners—recall the swings that left them speechless.
The best shot I ever saw was a 3-wood Tiger Woods hit at Olympia Fields in 2003, at the U.S. Open. I was playing with him and Ernie Els. It was his second shot on a par 5. He was blocked out by trees, so he aimed well left [of the green] and hit a 50-yard cut that flew 270 yards. It rolled to the front edge of the green, and he two-putted for birdie. It was unbelievable power, and to cut it that much. We just nodded, “Great shot.” He looked like he’d just hit a home run.
I was a rookie in 2008, and I was paired with Tiger at Torrey Pines on Saturday. It was my third event, so playing with Tiger on the weekend was crazy, nerve-racking. We get to 11, and I’m even-par. He had, like, an 8-shot lead, running away with it. The pin was back-left on top of a little tier, and I had honors. I hit a nice 5-iron to about 30 feet, right where I wanted. Tiger’s talking to [caddie Steve Williams] and looking around. He pulls out 4-iron, but he’s a full iron longer than me at the time, so I’m confused by the club selection. Well, he chokes down to the steel and starts this cut shot at the edge of the bunker. It bends back to the pin, lands at the base of the hill, releases and runs up the slope, and lips out. It stops nine inches away. The fans went crazy. He looks at Stevie and winks. He was the only player in the world who could pull that off.
Last year in the final round of the Masters, I was paired with Rory McIlroy, and he hit the greatest shot I’ve ever seen. We were playing the par-3 fourth hole—it was about 215 yards that day. Rory was first on the tee and was between a 4-iron and a 3-iron. He hit the 3, and hit it over the green and into the trees. Back there, it’s absolutely dead. There are thick trees, bushes and a fence. You can barely walk in there, let alone hit a shot. He disappeared into the bushes for a couple of minutes to find his ball and figure out whether he’d take a drop. I had hit my tee shot to about 30 feet, so I just waited, wondering what he might do. He came out of the bushes, grabbed something like a 7-iron, and disappeared into the trees again. I couldn’t even see him. He took what sounded like a full swing, and the ball rattled around in the tree branches, flew onto the green and trickled down to within 10 feet of the cup. He looked at me, smiled and laughed. He couldn’t even say anything! If you were going to put odds on it, I’d say one in a million. And then, of course, he made the par putt.
Chris Kirk’s albatross during a practice round at the 2014 British Open, at Royal Liverpool, is the only albatross I’d ever seen. It was into the wind. He hits it low and lands it just short of the green, and it rolls and rolls, goes and goes—and drops into the cup. I was shouting, yelling for him. He smiled but walked to the hole like not much had happened. That’s Chris’s style.
In a Ryder Cup, when one of your teammates plays a shot, it’s partly your shot as well—you’re just so invested. So I’ll go with Sergio’s shot into the 18th at Gleneagles in 2014, in foursomes on Day 1. He and Rory were down in their match. The shot had to be played perfectly. He hit this 5-wood through a gap in the tree with a high cut and to the back-left of the green. He left Rory about a 25-foot putt. They won the hole and halved the match. The Ryder Cup was very tight, and this was a shifting moment.
I was playing with Davis [Love III] in the last round of the “97 PGA at Winged Foot, and I remember a chip he hit on No. 13. He led, but I’d closed the gap. I found the green, and he hit thick rough. I figured I’d pick up a stroke, maybe two. Well, he hit this flop, almost made it, and basically ended the tournament right there.
It was Larry Mize, at the 1987 Masters, but not the shot you think. On No. 1 [on Sunday], he missed the green hole-high right, down the slope, almost to where the patrons were. The hole was cut back-right, and I still don’t know how he hit that chip to tap-in range. Everybody talks about his hole-out on 11 in the playoff, but that wouldn’t have happened had he not done what he did at the first. He had no chance. The hole was cut on this tiny back shelf. You have a foot or two to work with, because of the slope and the speed. He bumped the ball into the hill like it was no big deal, walked up there, tapped it in, and on you go. Back then, those holes weren’t shown on TV, so you wouldn’t have seen it unless you were there.
The greatest shot I ever saw was one that almost beat me. It was Dustin Johnson at Riviera in 2015. It was the first playoff hole, No. 10, a [drivable] par 4. DJ’s tee shot goes into greenside rough: thick lie, bad angle, over a bunker, and he had to stop it quickly. I tell my caddie, “No way he gets this inside 10 feet.” He did. He hit it high, a soft bunker-style swing that somehow checked to three feet. There’s a lot more to DJ than his power.
Ryo Ishikawa. He’s in the right-hand rough, directly behind a tree. This was a practice round, so he didn’t need to hit the shot. He turns his body left and hits a monster cut that flies to the left side of the fairway, chases back toward the green, and rolls onto the green for a middle-length putt. It was like Bubba’s wedge shot at Augusta [in the “13 playoff], but it was from rough, further out, and was a cut. Amazing.
It was Phil Mickelson, at Sawgrass in 2010, on 11. He was playing great, and I wasn’t. We both had 230 yards to a front-left pin. I laid up from the rough, but he hit a 5-iron way into the sky that landed four feet from the hole, leaving him 10 feet for eagle. I’m 24, a Tour rookie. I said to my caddie, ‘I don’t have that one.”
Phil hit a flop shot in the second round of the [Zurich Classic], in 2006. He was close to a [greenside] bunker, but not in it, and he had five feet of landing space on the other side. Anyone else would have chipped it out sideways and taken the long putt, but Phil lines up directly at the hole, takes a big cut and drops it two feet away from the cup. He’s the only person who can confidently do that.
In 2014, I played with Phil at the St. Jude Classic. He hit it long on the downhill par-3 fourth hole. The pin was back-right, so long was not good. He was on a downslope, totally screwed. I couldn’t have gotten the shot within 20 feet. He hits this big, full, Phil-flop swing, and it lands and trickles to four feet.
Classic Phil, at Pinehurst in 2014, in a U.S. Open practice round. He’s short-right of the green, [near] a bunker, and any normal player would have putted it. I would have putted it. But Phil takes out his lob wedge and tosses the ball inside two feet, almost jarring the thing. I laughed. He gave me that classic Phil smile.
One of the greatest shots I’ve seen in my 64-year career was by my friend Seve Ballesteros at the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes. He was only 22 years old, but the golf world knew he had near unlimited potential. Holding a two-shot lead, and with the wind blowing, he drove his ball into a car park along the 16th fairway. But Seve’s game from 100 yards in was so good. He had a decent lie considering where his ball landed, but think about his mentality walking into that car park. “Did I just blow my lead? Am I going to have to take a penalty? How am I going to respond?” It still impresses me how he remained focused. It might be the best example that proves it’s what’s inside one’s head that matters most. That’s the sign of a champion. With the pressure of the world on his shoulders, Seve’s next shot landed on the green, giving him a chance for birdie. And he did what champions do: made the putt to put him up three shots. He went on to break my record to become the youngest Open Champion in the modern era.
It was at the Ryder Cup in 1983. Seve Ballesteros was playing Fuzzy Zoeller in singles on Sunday. Seve pulled his tee shot into 8-inch rough. He then smother-hooked a wedge that only went 50 yards and ended in a fairway bunker. He had just over 230 yards to the hole. With the lip of the bunker, I reckoned he’d need a 5- or 6-iron. Fuzzy was on the green. The match was tied. Seve took his 3-wood and, without disturbing a grain of sand, hit a big, high cut into the wind, to the back edge of the green, and two-putted for 5. This was with the old balls and the old wood clubs. I don’t think it was ever even on TV. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Sergio’s shot from behind the tree at Medinah, multiple Tiger shots. And as brilliant as they were, they don’t compare to Seve’s 3-wood out of that bunker. It was the best shot I’ve seen in my life.