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The Masters: Six of the best

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Rob Hodgetts | 13:10 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2012

This year's Masters, which starts on Thursday, is shaping up to be a classic with all the favourites in fine form.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Justin Rose have all won this season and if you are not excited about the year's first major there's not much we can do for you.

Apart, that is, from have a look back over some of the best Masters in the last 30 years and ask, which is the greatest?

Of course, it's subjective and everyone has their own reasons and allegiances, but here are six of the best to kick you off.


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Last year is not a bad place to start in the hunt for the best Masters. A new king seemingly marching to his coronation, the old monarch making a final-day charge, and a host of young pretenders jousting for the title on a tumultuous Sunday afternoon.

Having led for three rounds, Rory McIlroy strode onto the first tee with a four-shot cushion but few could have foreseen his transformation from heir apparent to fallen idol.

Up ahead, roars ricocheted around Augusta as players made their move. McIlroy was under fire immediately, his lead wiped out after his own bogey at the first and Charl Schwartzel's early fireworks - a birdie at the first and an eagle at the third.

Still clinging to a one-shot lead on the 10th tee, the vulnerable McIlroy hooked his drive into the trees. A triple bogey followed, and with it a collapse that proved terminal.

The destiny of the Green Jacket shifted elsewhere. Eyes were on stalks as Tiger Woods surged into contention. But the four-time champion's charge came up short and he finished fourth for the second straight year.

The momentum flicked here and there, like a flock of starlings on the wing, with eight players holding the lead at some stage on Sunday.

But out of the madness emerged Schwartzel, the South African making birdies on the last four holes to win by two shots from Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day. The crestfallen McIlroy limped home in 80. Two months later his redemption came with an utterly dominant US Open triumph.


There is nothing a Masters crowd likes better than an American on the charge and there is no-one who fires them up more than Phil Mickelson.

So when "Lefty", bidding for a fairytale third Green Jacket after a year in which his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer, launched a run of eagle-eagle-birdie from the 13th on Saturday, the roars resembled howitzers. Tiger Woods and veteran Fred Couples played their part, but it was Mickelson's magic that sparked the fireworks. Still trailing leader Lee Westwood by one going into Sunday, Mickelson again lit the touch paper on the back nine.

A birdie at the short 12th gave him a two-shot lead over the Englishman. And then came the shot that will go down in Masters folklore. Seizing the moment, like a gambler inclined to twist when sticking would be more sensible, Mickelson hit a 207-yard six iron from the pine needles, through a five-foot gap between two trees, over a tributary of Rae's Creek, and to within four feet of the pin on the long 13th.

Electricity crackled through the galleries and the cheers again threatened to shake the pines from their roots. He missed the eagle, but Mickelson's swashbuckling gave him the impetus for further birdies on 15 and 18 and he surged to a three-shot win over a shell-shocked Westwood.


Ragged and regal in almost equal measure, Woods's scrap with fellow American Chris DiMarco might not have been the prettiest of his nine major wins up to that point but it had emotion, guts and a shot that ranks among the all-time Augusta classics.

Without a major title for almost three years, and with father Earl absent with cancer and heart problems, Woods trailed halfway leader DiMarco by six, but was three clear going into the final round after a stunning third-round 65.

But he could still not shake off the dogged DiMarco, and standing on the 16th tee in the shadows of late Sunday afternoon, his lead was down to one. Woods then fired his tee shot over the green and looked on the ropes. He needed some magic, but what followed was almost supernatural.

Chipping up, the ball took a right turn and teased its way down towards the cup, dropping with its last gasp of energy to a noise akin to thunder. But the drama was not over. Woods messed up 17 and 18 and DiMarco squandered a chance to clinch the title on 18.

A sudden-death play-off followed, and Woods dealt the fatal blow on the first extra hole. "I want to dedicate this to my father," Woods said. "I could feel him out there with me."

Woods wizardry in 2005


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In these four days, golf changed irrevocably. At just 21 years of age, Woods became the youngest Masters winner ever when he romped to his first major title with a record 12-shot victory.

In his first major as a professional - he had played in two Masters as an amateur (tied 41st in 1995, missed cut in 1996) - Woods carded 70, 66, 65, 69 to break Jack Nicklaus's 1965 tournament scoring record by one shot.

Woods played a game that was streets ahead of his contemporaries, combining athleticism and raw power with pin-point accurate irons and a lethal putting stroke. Woods's length would lead many courses, including Augusta National, to add yardage - dubbed "Tiger-proofing" - to combat the new breed.

Woods's breakthrough win - watched at home by among others an almost eight-year-old Rory McIlroy - ushered in an era of soaring prize money, massive TV audience figures, increased focus on physical fitness and the start of a golfing legacy that may yet have further to run. Anyone remember who came second and third in 1997? (*answer below)


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Not so much a tale of one man's triumph, more a glimpse into another man's tragedy. Nick Faldo may have won his third Green Jacket but the 1996 Masters will forever be remembered as the one Greg Norman threw away.

The Australian shot a course-record 63 in the first round and led playing partner Faldo by six going into Sunday, seemingly set for a first Masters title, after seven top-six finishes. But after 11 holes his lead was gone. Norman, rattled and taking ever longer over his shots, fired his tee shot to the short 12th into the water.

Now two ahead, Faldo the iceman kept up the pressure with birdies at 13 and 15. The Great White Shark again found water on the 16th and Faldo added a final birdie on 18 for a ruthless and clinical 67 to Norman's agonising 78 to win by five.

Showing uncharacteristic emotion, the Englishman embraced Norman at the end. "I don't know what to say," he whispered. "I'm sorry." A Norman collapse, or a Faldo assassination? Either way, another amazing chapter in Masters history.

The final selection has to go to Mr Augusta himself, Jack Nicklaus. The "Golden Bear" was in the twilight of his career at the age of 46, with five Green Jackets and 17 majors safely tucked away. A decent haul, many thought; time to rest on your laurels, milk the appreciation of the fans, relax.

A newspaper article at the start of the week even labelled Nicklaus "washed up". But Jack had other ideas.

Twenty-three years after landing his first Masters title, Nicklaus began the final day four behind leader Norman but an inspired back nine of 30, including an eagle-birdie-birdie streak from the 15th, gave him a 65 to beat Norman and Tom Kite by one, with Seve Ballesteros a further stroke back.

"The noise was quadrophonic," said Nicklaus's playing partner Sandy Lyle. "We knew he'd done something special and it was a great privilege to watch it unfolding."

Nicklaus wins sixth Masters

You can follow me throughout Masters week on Twitter.

*Tom Kite and Tommy Tolles.


  • Comment number 1.

    Watched them all !

    But the best ?

    1986 - Jack Nicklaus, the best golfer ever.

    Also a gentleman on the golf course.

  • Comment number 2.

    That shot by Mickelson was just awesome. It was at that moment I throw my betting slip for Westwood away.

    Agree with blog. Shaping up to be a cracker again.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good blog - yes this will be a great masters looking forward to it.

    @1 - Best golfer \ gentleman ever JN ?

    IMHO - That must be "The hawk" - Mr Ben Hogan

  • Comment number 4.

    How can you not have Sandy Lyle's bunker shot on the 18th? 1st British winner of the Masters and winner of the competition for the worst ever dance after holing a winning putt!

  • Comment number 5.

    Yeh, all amazing golfing moments. I've followed the masters most years since Langer won in '85. Too many amazing moments. Just such a sporting spectacle. That shot of Tiger's at 16, Phil from the needles, Mize chipping in, Lyle from the bunker, Faldo and Norman, Rory's hook from nowhere. It's just an iconic venue. This year will, I'm sure, be memorable. I would love to see Rory sinking the winning putt after a head to head final round in the last grouping with Woods. Go curly!

  • Comment number 6.

    Everyone remembers the Tiger Woods chip in at 16, but he wasn't the first to pull that one off in recent times. Davis Love III did so in 1999. OK he didn't win in the end, but that seems to have been forgotten, to my mind simply because who he is, or rather, who he isn't.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ben Crenhaws win in 1995 should have been mentioned. Ben Crenshaw had come to Augusta for the Masters playing uglier than a presidential threesome. Three missed cuts in his last four starts. Hadn't broken 70 in two months. Sixty-ninth on the PGA Tour in putting. Ben flew back on the wednesday after attending the funeral of his sole coach and best friend. His win was one of the biggest upsets at The Masters in history. But deservedly so!

  • Comment number 8.

    1986 the best for me but the past two years have been terrific too. Also agree with #4 that Sandy Lyle's Masters was just fantastic; he lost it and won it about three different times before the clincher.

    Be nice to see a RH entry in our fantasy game Rob, who'd'you fancy?

  • Comment number 9.

    Nicklaus dealing with the upstarts in 1986. Golf, like Dart, Snooker and F1 are not really sports IMHO , but watching Nicklaus coming from behind gave hope to all middle aged people. As I enter my 5th decade I can still appreciate his genius.

  • Comment number 10.

    Tiger chipping in was the one for me played it miles from the hole never looked like it would be anywhere near great imagination and green reading

  • Comment number 11.

    Faldo's win in 1996 and the Ryder Cup in general got me hooked on golf.

    My wife used to say golf was boring to watch, I would love her to watch the 1996 re run to see the emotion and suspense involved, subsequent Ryder Cups have changed her opinion, my home course was the Celtic Manor until we moved abroad

    She understands now a days !

  • Comment number 12.

    its a pity we never seen John Hawksworth compete in a Masters.

  • Comment number 13.

    #4 have to agree with you there about Sandy.

    I always had confidence he was going to win - that brown shirt he was wearing on the final day was going to compliment a green jacket perfectly - just destiny!

  • Comment number 14.

    Phil making 5 birdies in the last 7 holes to win his first major to see off an almost equally brilliant Ernie in 04 was remarkable stuff.

    Olazabal winning in 99 when only three years earlier he couldn t walk was extraordinary.

    Cant wait for Thursday it could be epic!!

  • Comment number 15.

    The thing that's never mentioned about Lyle's bunker shot is that he was dim enough to drive it in there in the first place!

    In the same winning position, Woosnam had the brains to take that bunker out of the equation by blasting a drive straight up onto the practice ground. Brilliant creative strategic thinking.

  • Comment number 16.

    1997. My comment is made without prejudice. As a golfer who is black the 1997 Masters was a watershed. Maybe for others TW was seen as an extravegantly gifted young golfer, but for us who had suffered the humiliation of being turned away from golf courses, been subject to unwelcome staring and less than welcome glances at golf courses around the south east, it was almost as if TW winning the Masters would make us more acceptable. Here was someone who looked like us who had forced the golf world and beyond to pay attention and in doing so raised the level of debate about racism in the sport of golf whether it be international at the highest level or at our local pay and play course.

    So for the vast majority of golfers who are not black there have been more memorable Masters and I respect all of them, but for me 1997 was the day the world of golf changed for ever.

  • Comment number 17.

    #16 Great post lesmow.
    Tell me, though - where are we in 2012... slightly better place or much better place?
    Football tells us it has tackled racism successfully. Can we say the same for golf or more work to do? (Although I appreciate there is always 'more' to be done)

  • Comment number 18.

    My boy Hunter Mahan is flying at the minute, great shout for the masters i reckon

  • Comment number 19.

    @ 16
    I could not agree with you more; 1997 was an unforgettable year and the winning margin was just phenomenal. It must have been joyous for all those that had been deprived previously from playing golf because others believed they were sub-human.

  • Comment number 20.

    #15 - can't agree with you - Woosnam won but he only won by holing about an 8 foot putt for par after missing the green from way out on practice ground.

    I was actually there last year - magical place, magical year and magical memories - so 2011 will always be my best Masters year!

    Looking forward to boring the wife this year with many - I was there last year - comments.

  • Comment number 21.

    i hope somebody chips in from the rough, i love it when that happens

  • Comment number 22.

    1986 for me. I have seen the comments surrounding TW's maiden success could not eclipse the raw emotion that followed Jack. I saw highlights of his 1980 US Open win in Boltsural which was amazing. At 46 and winning a Major when you had a field of super talented Europeans. Just watch his tee-shot on the 16th in the final round and tell me that no other player other than Jack had received such a reception and response. Jack changed the game. Players were not eating bananas round course till he did. I agree with the sentiments that people shared in terms of when they aged, they found that not only could they remain competitive in golf, but also enjoy it with a smile.

  • Comment number 23.

    Nice blog, the Masters is one of those truly special sporting events, isn't it? Let's hope for another classic this time.

    Rory and Tiger both in the mix on Sunday, for example, that could be great.

    My top three from the past? Got to be 1986 / 2005 / 2010. Plus 2001 is worth a mention, being the last leg of the (Tiger) slam. We're unlikely to see that again for a long long time.

  • Comment number 24.

    To cfcboy23 #17. I don'twant this to turn into a blog about race but I will give you my opinion.

    There is a world of difference, to then and now. This is because the TW affect encouraged more black and ethnic golfers to want to take part at a local level where before they were made not welcome. TW successes probably changed the attitudes of golf establishments who became more open to participation of minorities at their golf clubs as well as the good business sense this made.

    There is a but. TW seems a one off, there are no visible minorities coming through to the higher level from this country or from the US or South Africa, there is a question mark on why.

  • Comment number 25.

    A nice blog but how could you miss out on Seve's win in '83? (30 years was the criteria). He is the man responsible for making the US Masters a global event. Up until then it was more or less an excluslively American invitational (it still is an invitational event (the only Major that is) but Seve's victories ultimately drove the, before then, closed shop at Augusta to change and "widen" their invitations.

  • Comment number 26.

    For me it has to be Ben Crenshaw in 1995 closely follwed by Faldo in '96. Crenshaw's win certainly disrupted the European dominance of the event but it was impossible not to support him on that Sunday afternoon when everyone knew just what he had been through in the last 7 days. Maybe this isn't entirely about the spectacle of the event and more about what the human spirit is capable of achieving under extreme duress. The most fitting thing 'gentle' Ben could do for his mentor and friend, Harvey Pennick, was to go out and win and that's just what he did. His composure on the course was in stark contrast to what he must have been feeling inside and that makes it all the more enthralling.

    Faldo's win over Norman was just pure fantasy set against one of the most picturesque settings in golf. That he went out to grind Norman down is not in doubt and the pressure exerted by him on his partner of the day was incredible. They had gone head to head before so Norman knew what he was up against. Perhaps the most marvellous thing was the way these two, by no means friends, responded after the event and that's part of the greatness of the game of golf.

    Surprisingly perhaps but I think Woods first win was not a watershed but a disaster as he then put himself above the game and its principals. It's the only time in over 30 years that I switched off before the last 3 groups were through Amen Corner. I don't mind someone winning by a country mile but Woods has been so ungracious throughout his career that I just can't warm to him. Maybe that's another reason why the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Freddie Couples & Zach Johnston's wins stand out head and shoulders above Woods' for me.

  • Comment number 27.

    My favourite so far would be one of Phil's wins. Unfortunately I wasn't around to see any of the pre 1992 Masters....

  • Comment number 28.

    @15 isn't that what makes things so exciting though? Or is everyone who misses the fairway just 'dim'? Was Tiger 'dim' for overshooting the green? Was Mickelson 'dim' for ending up in the pines in the first place?

    It would be very boring if everyone hit the fairway, hit the green in regulation and holed every putt, recoveries from the rough and the bunker are what makes it exciting to watch and adds to the tension and drama of it all.

  • Comment number 29.

    Bilo how would you feel if someone with a belly putter won the masters??

  • Comment number 30.

    @Dave Payn

    D.L. III wasn't likely to win even at that stage. More importantly, his ball was lying in the rough, as opposed to right up against the fringe. All good players will know that such a lie made the checkspin Woods got on the ball nearly impossible. Allied to the fact that he went on to win the tournament, this means that there is very little comparison to be made between the two.

    Rory and Tiger to contend this week, with the rejuvenated Woods to emerge victorious IMO

  • Comment number 31.

    longway1989 You make it sound like D.L III's shot was so straightforward!

    I had already pointed out the fact that he didn't win in 1999, though he was only two shots behind the eventual winner. Yes, Woods won but only after doing his level best to lose it after his admittedly magnificent shot on 16 (I'm not belittling Woods at all, all I'm doing is pointing out another that Love produced a none-too-dissimilar shot that seems to have largely been forgotten, unfairly so, in my view)

  • Comment number 32.

    Whilst I'm not denying the skill level of "that" chip by TW I still somehow feel there was an element of luck in it. A la Larry Mize. You could give them both another 100 balls and they would probably not repeat those shots.
    But hey that's what sporting drama is all about. The actual moment. Ask I Kim at the LPGA Kraft Nabisco, poor girl !
    I can't help feel that someone will sneak up the blind side this week. I backed Schwartzel @ 66-1 last year and feel that there may a similar surprise this year.

  • Comment number 33.

    For me it's 1989 & Nick's first win. He had an extremely poor finish to his 3rd round which had all but ruined his chances of winning. He changed his putter before the delayed final round & quickly started to make some putts. The putts he made at 16 & 17 were unbelievable, but it looked like he would come up short after he missed a makeable putt for a course record equalling 63. He managed to squeak into a playoff against Hoch who missed that tiddler at the 10th in the playoff & then preceded to birdie the 11th (a hole that he bogied in all 4 rounds!) with another long putt. The memory of his reaction to holing this putt & receiving the green jacket from his old adversary Lyle will remain with me forever.

  • Comment number 34.

    trev @ 26

    Either I misread that or something doesn't quite gell there.

    You say that following Woods' emergence with his 12 shot Masters victory he went on to put himself 'above the game and its principles' - hence you don't like him and feel his 97 win was a disaster.

    And you say you were so pee'd off by him winning in 97 that you turned off well before the finish.

    But back then (as he was winning by 12 shots in 97) this was well before all the behavioural 'problems' with Woods, he played with a smile on his face etc etc and all the bad stuff was yet to come.

    Therefore it must have been something else about Tiger you took against when you first saw him.

  • Comment number 35.

    i hope somebody holes a long Putt. I love it when that happens.


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