The absence of a Masters this April leaves the type of void no silly Internet ranking can fill. We should probably get that part out of the way first. But even then, if you agree the Masters stands apart in the way it oozes history, then you can also agree there’s enough material from the tournament’s first 86 years to get us through the week. And if you can add an element of competition to the proceedings, even better.
So with that, Golf Digest recently undertook the challenge of identifying the 50 most defining moments in Masters history—a highly subjective exercise that is likely to elicit cries of malpractice under the best of circumstances. Nonetheless, it has emerged as the best way to satisfy our Masters craving at a time when we need the distraction most. But first, a word about our criteria. Was it the best shots? Events of historical significance? Our ranking features plenty of both. But more precisely, we wanted to pinpoint those moments that resonated deepest—the above-the-fold, film-at-11, trending-on-Twitter episodes that are as reliable at Augusta National as the mowing patterns. Understanding much of this is in the eye of the beholder, we still arrived at a healthy mix of inspiring, heartbreaking, and altogether odd—all of them reminders of what we’re missing now.
The Masters has long embraced creating value through scarcity, and for many years that included limiting how much of Augusta National viewers at home were able to see. When Tiger Woods outlasted Retief Goosen to win his third green jacket in 2002, the other big winner was a television audience allowed to see all 18 holes of the final round for the first time. “We knew that there was a great demand for it,” Masters chairman William (Hootie) Johnson said of the relaxed policy, “and we just decided that we ought to satisfy that demand.”
“Come to papa!” David Feherty provided the memorable call to the second-best timed albatross (more on the first later) in Masters history as Louis Oosthuizen holed a 4-iron from 253 yards on No. 2. The remarkable shot vaulted the South African over 54-hole leader Peter Hanson and into solo first. Unfortunately for Oosthuizen, he would be topped by an even better shot at the end of the day (more on that later as well).
Photo by Al Tielemans
The presence of honorary starters, a tradition dating back to 1963, helps provide the Masters a breath of timelessness, linking today’s participants to legends of old. But it was the absence of one of Augusta National’s favourites that made for the most sentimental moment in the ceremony’s history. Arnold Palmer’s green jacket lay neatly on a chair beside the first tee as the gallery stood for moment of silence for four-time Masters champ who had passed the previous September. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, after wiping away tears, hit their shots. Palmer, the man, was missing, but his spirit remained.
Photo by JD Cuban
The first sudden-death playoff in Masters history saw a pair of green coats using the flagstick and an envelope to see who was away on the 10th green (the first extra hole); a trio of makable putts missed on said green; and a first-time Masters participant named Fuzzy Zoeller knocking in a seven-footer on the second extra hole to down Tom Watson and Ed Sneed. When the putt went down, Zoeller tossed his putter skyward and celebrated, by leaping into the air, albeit only slightly higher than Phil Mickelson in 2004.
Photo by Peter Dazeley
“He plays a game with which I am not familiar,” Bobby Jones said after watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1965 Masters in stunning fashion. Given the stature of the man who said it, the quote has become more famous than the feat it was describing. Yet here’s why the Augusta National co-founder heaped such praise: En route to his second of six Masters titles, Nicklaus, at 25, won by nine strokes, and with a 17-under 271 he broke the then 12-year-old tournament scoring record by three. Game recognize game.
Photo by James Drake
In search of his first Masters title, Ben Crenshaw birdied Nos. 8 and 9 and followed with a monstrous, sweeping right-to-left 60-foot putt for birdie on No. 10, putting him two in front. “My caddie tending the flagstick looked as if he were in a different part of Georgia,” Crenshaw said. “It was lookin’ good and I was beggin’ fall in, fall in and it did!” Crenshaw went on to produce one of the most popular wins in tournament history.
Photo by Leonard Kamsler/Popperfoto via Getty Images (3)
Everyone remembers Tiger’s “In your life!” chip-in on No. 16 that day, but often forgotten is the fact Woods bogeyed the final two holes to fall into a tie that forced a playoff with Chris DiMarco. But Woods wasn’t about to let a fourth green jacket slip through his fingers, and his late stumble simply led to another clutch highlight. After two perfect shots to start the first extra hole, he drained a 15-footer for birdie on No. 18 to claim major No. 9.
Photo by Getty Images
For golf fans of a certain age, televised interviews with Masters winners by Augusta National chairmen were once considered high comedy. A stiff, awkward air pervaded Butler Cabin when Clifford Roberts did the honours, and in 1980, Hord Hardin reached a nadir when he asked Seve Ballesteros how tall he was and how much he weighed. “The scene was out of a Monty Python movie,” Golf Digest’s Jerry Tarde wrote, “but only years later did I realise the full extent of Hardin's panic.” Hord’s explanation: “I knew Seve was a handsome fellow. I was building up to ask him about girls. But I realised maybe he’d say, ‘I don’t like girls. I like guys.’ So I sort of froze up.” To Hord’s credit: “I always realised how terrible I was at those things.” Today, the job is left in the capable hands of Jim Nantz.
“You know, I had never hit a ball into Rae’s Creek until that time,” Tom Weiskopf told Golf Digest’s Guy Yocom 20 years after hitting five balls into the water at the par-3 12th hole. “I had hit a ball into Rae’s Creek from behind the green on my second shot [laughs], but never the tee. … Boy was I mad. Finally I hit my sixth shot on the green and two-putted. A 13. Later I found out that Jeanne [his wife at the time] was standing there watching in tears, and a good friend of mine tried to lighten the situation. He leaned over to her and whispered, “Tom’s not using new balls, is he?”
Perhaps cruelly, the one title separating Rory McIlroy from the career Grand Slam is the major he was poised to win first. In 2011, McIlroy had the solo lead the first three days, and even into the back nine on Sunday. Then, disaster: A snap-hooked drive into the cabins on 10, a triple bogey, and a closing 80. Charl Schwartzel won his only major with four straight birdies to close, and McIlroy’s complicated relationship with the Masters had been forged.
Photo by Andrew Redington
Contributors: Ryan Herrington, E. Michael Johnson, Alex Myers, Mike O’Malley, Sam Weinman
COMING TUESDAY: Nos. 31-40