The Biggest Meltdowns in PGA Tour History
We’re so constantly awed by the success of golfers on the PGA Tour that we sometimes forget: Even the best golfers have days when they just don’t play well. And sometimes, those bad days occur in the middle of a major tournament. Maybe a shot goes awry, or a putt is impossible to sink. Whatever the reason may be, no pro in the history of the PGA Tour has ever been immune to a mid-event collapse. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look chronologically at the biggest meltdowns in PGA Tour history. (You probably remember the meltdown on page 15 like it was yesterday.)
1. 1938: Ray Ainsley, U.S. Open
Don’t let the pretty scenery fool you — this course can be an absolute doozy. Ray Ainsley found that out the hard way back in 1938. Ainsley hooked a shot and the ball went into a creek running through the 16th fairway. It reportedly ended up taking him a historic 19 shots to get the ball out of the water and into the hole on the green.
Next: Even the greats have bad days …
2. 1947: Sam Snead, U.S. Open
Snead holds a handful of the PGA’s most elusive records. But his meltdown at the 1947 U.S. Open is probably one the late pro wouldn’t want in the record books. At the end of the playoff round against Lew Worsham, Snead reportedly became angry over a delay in play and, in his frustrated state, ended up missing a 30-inch putt. With the miss, the Open slipped through Snead’s fingertips.
Next: Another great with a blip on his resume …
3. 1966: Arnold Palmer, U.S. Open
Palmer, one of the best to ever play the game, had a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play in the final round of the 1966 U.S. Open. Then he took his eye off the prize at hand and began chasing Ben Hogan’s scoring record, and his game came unraveled. He bogeyed 15, 16, and 17 on his way to losing to Billy Casper in the playoff round. Despite all his achievements, Palmer never forgot that loss in ’66.
Next: Losing the lead very late in the game …
4. 1979: Ed Sneed, The Masters
Sure, things can get dicey when you only have a slim lead heading into the last few holes of a tournament. And for Ed Sneed, that meant taking a three-shot lead into the final three holes at Augusta National in 1979. Sneed then imploded and finished the event tied for second with Tom Watson. To top it all off, he lost to a player named Fuzzy Zoeller, who was later known for gaffes in the press with Tiger Woods and John Daly. (More on those two a little later.)
Next: One of the roughest meltdowns in all of golfdom …
5. 1991: Mark Calcavecchia, Ryder Cup
“Calc” was the spark behind the U.S.’s 1991 Ryder Cup team, leading the way with a four-shot lead and four holes left to play. He then came completely undone, hitting two balls into the water and missing his final two putts from up close. His shank into the ocean on the 17th hole is regarded as one of the worst shots in the history of the PGA Tour.
Next: Another pro falls prey to Augusta …
6. 1996: Greg Norman, The Masters
Augusta has proven to be a thorn in many a-golfer’s sides. And Greg Norman is probably the most famous. The Shark never fared well at The Masters, and his closest chance to win and biggest blunder came in the 1996 event. Norman went into Sunday with a healthy lead on his opponents, but fell apart in the middle of the round, racking up bogeys and dunking the ball in the water. With a double-bogey on 16, his hopes of wearing a green jacket were completely dashed.
Next: All wet …
7. 1999: Jean van de Velde, British Open
The Frenchman was a relative unknown when he went into the last day of the 1999 British Open with a three-shot lead. But he was forever remembered afterward when Carnoustie Golf Club — one of the toughest courses in the world — got the best of him. Van de Velde’s second shot on 18 hit a grandstand near the green and ricocheted into thick rough. His next shot went into the river running through the course, and he contemplated hitting the ball out of the water before settling for the drop.
Although Van de Velde himself says he has put the epic blunder behind him, his 1999 performance is considered by many to be the worst meltdown in PGA Tour history.
Next: Although, this next meltdown is also pretty bad …
8. 2006: Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open
Lefty has had his fair share of victories over his storied career. But he’s also had some big mishaps, and the 2006 U.S. Open tops the list. With a modest lead as he teed off at 18, Mickelson sliced the ball so bad it hit off a hospitality tent. He then reached for a three-iron to try hooking the ball around the tree in his way and hit the ball right into the trunk. On his third shot, he over cut and sent the ball into a greenside bunker. That one disastrous hole sunk his chances of winning the event.
Next: Earlier in that same tournament …
9. 2006: Tiger Woods, U.S. Open
The former best player in the world made the cut in 142 consecutive PGA Tour events, dating 1998 to 2005. That streak was tested at the 2006 U.S. Open, which Woods participated in despite the recent death of his father. The usually steel-like Woods was something of an emotional wreck those first two days, bogeying his first three holes on Thursday and never recovering. He missed the cut, although he rebounded at his next event.
Next: Not everyone rebounds so well …
10. 2008: John Daly, British Open
Truth be told, we’ve come to expect meltdowns and mishaps from John Daly. But he really made a spectacle at Birkdale Golf Club in 2008. Daly entered the major tourney after a week of trash-talking his hitting coach and insisting he wasn’t the lazy alcoholic others accused him of being. He then opened up the Open shooting an 80 on Thursday, and an even more ghastly 89 the following day. He ended that Friday second-to-last on the leaderboard — a whopping 29 over par and 20 strokes away from the cut.
Next: He should’ve taken his own advice …
11. 2010: Dustin Johnson, U.S. Open
Despite having a good playing history at Pebble Beach, Dustin Johnson confessed he was nervous heading into the last day of the 2010 U.S. Open even though he had the lead. He told the New York Times “unusual things sometimes happen on the last day of a major championship” but he planned to “be patient” in the final round. Just two holes in that Sunday, Johnson’s game came undone and the emotional toll caused him to completely melt down.
Next: That same year …
12. 2010: Hunter Mahan, Ryder Cup
In all fairness, it would’ve been tough for any member of the U.S. team to go up against Graeme McDowell at the end of the 2010 Ryder Cup. But the task was placed on the shoulders of Hunter Mahan, who hadn’t played well all-around at the tail end of the tournament. After his duffed pitch sealed the victory for the Europeans, Mahan felt so guilty he cried when he spoke to the media. However, his teammates — and the American media, surprisingly — were supportive of Mahan and the burden he was carrying.
Next: No luck for the Irish …
13. 2011: Rory McIlroy, Masters
In 2011, a 21-year-old Rory McIlroy looked prepped to win his first major event as he strolled into the final round at Augusta National with a lead. But he got off to a shaky start and never quite recovered. Not that it was entirely the Northern Irishman’s fault though. According to an article on the course’s website from 2012, “only 41 players holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead have gone on to win the green jacket.” At least McIlroy avenged his meltdown and won the U.S. Open later that season.
Next: A repeat appearance on our list …
14. 2015: Tiger Woods, The Memorial Tournament
When we first saw Tiger Woods on our list, he was at the height of his career and simply having a bad few days. Fast forward to 2015, however, and Woods was a player battling copious injuries and off-the-course drama. (Not to mention he hadn’t won a major event since the 2008 U.S. Open.) In the third round of that tournament, Woods posted a career-worst 85 and ended the weekend in 71st place having finished 14 over par.
Next: Last but not least …
15. 2016: Jordan Spieth, The Masters
Ah yes, Jordan Spieth. The kid wonder who talks to the golf ball more than Happy Gilmore. Spieth won The Masters in 2015 at 21 years old, and his return to Augusta the following year had everyone’s attention. And even though he wasn’t his dominant self for the better part of the tourney, the youngster had a lead on Englishman Danny Willett when he got to the 10th hole in the final round. But as Golf Magazine reminds us, Spieth then posted back-to-back bogeys, then a quadruple bogey, and even sent one of his pitches into the water. His body language at the end of the round rivals Hunter Mahan as one of the most visible and heart-breaking meltdowns in PGA Tour history.
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