The 16 Most Memorable Masters Moments
It looks like there may not be a Masters 2020 tournament, at least not in its traditional April time slot. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the best shots from a rich history. We huddled with our team, talked to our friends, and searched the archives to select our 16 most memorable moments in Masters tournament history.
But we want to know, what is your most memorable moment? To decide, we seeded each of these masterful golf shots from 1 to 16, grouped them in four regions by time period, and created a bracket challenge of Masters excellence. Now we’re asking you to help us determine which of these legends deserves the title of best moment in Masters history.
This contest ran during the pandemic-disrupted 2020 Masters, which had to be rescheduled due to Covid-19. But we had a great response, and you’ll never guess which of these amazing moments was voted the most memorable. Read on til the end to see!
Here’s a recap of our top four memories, each from a seminal period in Masters history.
Best Masters Shots of the 1980s and Earlier
Our first region consists of three moments from the 1980s, and one moment that golf fans of all ages can appreciate.
Jack’s 65 to win in ’86, becoming the oldest champion to date
In 1986, a 46-year old Jack Nicklaus shot a final round 65 to become the oldest Masters champion in history. It was remarkable how he won it: trailing by 6 strokes with 10 to play. It was remarkable that he won it: past his prime, or so they said. And it was remarkable because of who he beat: the leaderboard that Sunday was packed with first ballot hall of famers.
Watson, Langer, Kite, Ballesteros, even the beleaguered Greg Norman; none could match the Golden Bear, who on that day would win his 20th major championship and sixth green jacket eleven years after his last. Jack was the greatest player of his generation, and arguably the greatest to ever play the game. This moment is hard to beat.
Larry Mize in sudden death to beat Greg Norman in ’87
The drama continued the following year, as another iconic Masters moment would unfold on the second hole of a sudden death playoff. With star-crossed Greg Norman on the fringe and putting for birdie, Larry Mize lay 25 yards off the green, hoping against hope to somehow get it close.
If you’ve ever seen the Masters in person, you know the slopes and undulations are hard to fully appreciate on TV. The 11th hole (White Dogwood) is no exception — it’s the start of Amen Corner after all. Of all the possibilities, leaving it short of the green or rolling it into the pond seemed the most likely. But Mize would do neither, executing a delicate chip up and over the fringe and down into the hole. A shaken Norman would miss his birdie, giving Mize the victory.
Sandy Lyle wins the ’88 Masters for Britain
There are golf shots, and then there are 7-irons from the bunker to win the Masters type of golf shots. Our two seed in this region delivered “the 7-iron heard round the world”, and the first green jacket for a British player when Sandy Lyle birdied 18 to win the 1988 Masters by a stroke. To this point in time, only three players had accomplished this feat: Art Wall in 1959, Arnie Palmer in 1960, and Gary Player in 1978.
That would be dramatic enough, but the way he did it, from a fairway bunker with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, makes this memory worthy of inclusion. His recovery landed on the top tier of the 18th green and seemed like it might stay there, leaving him with an impossible downhole putt. But instead it caught the slope and rolled to within ten feet, where he drained the birdie to become the first British player to ever win The Masters.
Arnold Palmer commissions his Army for a 1960 win
Before Tiger, there was Arnie. And before Tiger’s gallery, was Arnie’s Army. He was the OG golf celebrity, responsible for carrying the game into prime time. By the 1960 Masters, Palmer was a well known golfer with a win in ‘58 under his belt, but not yet the superstar he would become.
On this particular Sunday, Arnie trailed Ken Venturi and Dow Finsterwald by two strokes heading into the back nine. As discerning fans know, there are two prime scoring holes on the back nine, the par 5 13th (Azalea) and par 5 15th (Firethorn). Palmer knew where he stood heading into them but couldn’t take advantage, and still trailed by two when he teed off on the par 4 17th. To the delight of “Arnies Army,” he birdied Nandina and the par 4 18th (Holly) to win his second green jacket, endearing himself to generations of golf fans.
Best Masters Shots of the 1990s
The 90’s in Augusta was a decade of heartbreak and nostalgia, new talent and a win for the old guard. Great play and a tragic (but predictable) collapse define the fours seeds in this region.
Norman’s collapse squanders 6 stroke lead in ’96
In 1996, after a series of close misses and unlikely defeats, it appeared Greg Norman would finally don the green jacket. But even up six strokes heading into Sunday’s final round, you could not deny the tension and nerves Norman displayed as he began his round with rival Nick Faldo.
“I could feel the nervousness emanating from Greg. He gripped and regripped the club, as though he could not steel himself to hit the ball,” Faldo recalled. A snap hook off the tee and bogey on the par 4 1st (Tea Olive) gave one shot back, and by the par 3 12th (Golden Bell) he and Faldo were tied at 9 strokes under par. A double bogey would all but seal his fate, as Norman finished the day 6 shots behind Faldo and an Augusta bridesmaid once more.
Fred Couples stays dry on 12, wins in ’92
The middle hole of Amen Corner is as high as the drama gets at Augusta. A beguilingly short par 3 and one of golf’s most famous, Golden Bell is known for playing mind tricks on every player who comes through. The waters of Rae’s Creek engulf golf balls and swallow green jacket dreams, which makes this particular moment even more spectacular.
Playing at 165 yards on the card that Sunday, you could tell from the body language that Fred Couples wished he’d played it 10 yards longer. What should have been a drop from the other side of the creek miraculously came to rest mere feet above the water. To say the outcome defied gravity would be an understatement. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Couples chipped up to gimme range and protected a two shot lead that would prove the difference over Raymond Floyd.
Tiger’s first roar delivers a 12 stroke win for the ages in ‘97
It was never a matter of if, but when for Tiger Woods. And it was not a matter that took long to settle, as the young phenom commanded Augusta from Tea Olive on Thursday through Holly on Sunday (well, not exactly; he went out in 40, making the final result all the more astonishing). When it was over, Tiger had shown us golf on an entirely new level, playing so well the normally stoic Woods could hardly his suppress big, goofy smile.
This was the origin of Tiger-proofing, as his 18-under-par 270 broke Jack Nicklaus’s 32 year record by one stroke. The 12-stroke margin of victory was the largest in modern golf and would stand for three years, until he broke it 3 years later with a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Crenshaw wins it for Harvey Pennick in ’95
The story is a script right out of Hollywood. Ben Crenshaw, playing in memory of his first and only golf coach Harvey Pennick, won the 1995 Masters with a dose of luck and fortune that Greg Norman would have traded a pinky for.
Crenshaw had not been playing to form, and 11 years removed from his 1984 Masters championship, had no business winning that tournament. But a tip from his Augusta caddy during a Tuesday range session provided confidence and the spirit of Pennick provided the luck. By the end of Sunday the old guard would have one more victory before passing the torch to a new generation of golfers who would change the game as we know it.
Best Masters Shots of the 2000s
The Masters enters a new millennium with one of the most incredible golf shots of all time.
The Chip: One of Tiger Woods’ best shots propels him in 2005
Tiger Woods has made a career of making the impossible look routine, and there’s no better display than his chip on the 16th hole in the 2005 Masters. From the circumstances (a one shot lead over Chris DiMarco with three to play) to the lie (resting on the thicker rough of the second cut) to the degree of difficulty (playing above the hole into a downslope), commentators wondered if he could get down to within 15 feet.
What happened next is seared into the collective golf memory. After perfect execution (caddie Steve Williams later said Woods’ aim point, 20 feet away, was “the size of a dime”), the ball drizzled like honey down the slope before coming to a seeming rest on the lip of the cup. After a full second, the ball took one more rotation and dropped into the hole. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the post-shot caddie-player celebration.
Phil’s 20 footer in ’04 gives him his first major & first green jacket.
We’ve all seen Lefty’s Leap, but this particular moment has relevance for other reasons as well. Phil’s close-but-no-cigar track record. Arnold Palmer’s last Masters, and the 50th in a row. A proceeding, curious hiatus from golf for Tiger Woods, who would head down to Fort Bragg for “some armed forces training,” according to Jim Nantz (we now know how that turned out).
But back to Phil. The back nine from this tournament had a lot of action. Two aces at 16, Bernard Langer trying to break Jack’s age record, and KJ Choi and Ernie Els making spirited runs. Standing on the tee at 12 down 3, Lefty took dead aim at the pin and drained a downhill birdie putt (the first of three straight). A delicate but crucial par save at Nandina set up a final hole that would test history, with Phil needing a birdie to win his first green jacket. Fortune would smile on Phil that day, in the form of a friendly read from Chris DiMarco, but the pressure was still on to make the 20 footer and finally wear his first green jacket.
Oh Canada! Mike Weir wins for the great white north in ’03
Despite two wins and two top 10s coming into the 2003 Masters, Mike Weir was an afterthought in a wet and rainy field. Soggy course conditions would make playing the already-long setup (7,290 yards on the card) even longer, but the Canadian was unfazed despite the first 36 hole Friday in 64 years and off course drama inspired by National Council of Women’s Organizations chairwoman Martha Burk.
“I keep my ball in the fairway and rely on my short game. I can’t unleash one 320 (yards) – don’t have that shot,” he told the Golf Channel in an interview. It would take 73 holes of grit and a bogey-free Sunday for Weir to finally win one for Canada in a playoff over Len Mattiace, highlighted by heady back nine play and pars on the final three holes to catch the club-house leader. Particularly notable was the 8 footer on 18 to force sudden death, of which Weir would say: “I wouldn’t wish that kind of pressure on anybody.”
Angel Cabrera, The Duck, steals it in ’09 playoff over Kenny Perry
For a brief period The Masters was taking heat from players and fans for overly “Tiger-proofing” the hallowed grounds by stretching holes to obscene lengths. Weather had been a factor too, so there’s no doubt the warm air and blue skies of 2009 helped foster a “classic Masters” feel with copious risk-reward play that traditionally defines the back nine on a Sunday.
This particular tournament saw a lot of back nine drama, with Tiger and Phil (paired together) charging from 7 shots back with a record tying front nine 30 for Phil and a 4-under round from Tiger. Neither could close the deal, playing the final two holes at an uncharacteristic +5, leaving two journeymen and an affable Argentenian with a curious nickname to duke it out in a three-way sudden death playoff. The day would belong to The Duck, as Angel Cabrera turned a difficult up-and-down on the first playoff hole into a two-putt par saving victory over Kenny Perry on the next.
Best Masters Shots of the 2010s
A decade of modern memories includes artistic shotmaking, an epic collapse, and a champion’s long-awaited return.
Tiger’s roar returns to Augusta in ’19
The most recent Masters gave golf fans a taste of nostalgia and put to rest a decade old question: could he win another Major? With a large front moving in from the midwest, organizers made the decision to split the tees on Sunday, which for Masters aficionados may have caused a bit of pearl clutching (the back nine, with its Amen Corner and reachable par 5s, is a defining feature of final round play). But it was either that or a Monday finish, so the decision was made and great drama would still unfold.
Woods started the day two shots back of Francesco Molinari and in the final pairing, creating a dream scenario 11 years in the making for golf fans worldwide. With action from marquee players all over the course, it was Tiger’s steady play (1 under on the front) and shotmaking (highlighted by an incredible punch out on the first hole of Amen Corner) that brought him to the par 3 16th (Redbud) with a one shot lead. After a near ace led to a kick-in birdie, his first major since 2008 and a “return to glory” was all but assured after a par at 17.
Spieth’s Golden Bell disaster derails back-to-back bid in ’16
These Masters memories aren’t all about brilliance. Some stand out for agony. Twenty years after Greg Norman’s Augusta collapse, which happened gradually, this meltdown would be sudden and violent, unfolding at the par-3 12th.
22 year old Jordan Spieth, fresh off a 3-major campaign that included the 2015 Masters, looked large and in charge with a 5 stroke lead after four straight front nine birdies. Bogeys on 10 and 11 seemed surmountable, but what happened at Golden Bell shocked the system. A fat tee shot rolled back into the water, as did his 80 yard follow. But the third would make a weekend hacker blush, with a chunky divot that had as good a chance of landing on the green as the golf ball. By the end of the 12 minute affair, an unsightly quad bogey cost the shell-shocked Spieth the rest of his lead and three strokes more. The rest, as Danny Willet would say, is history.
Phil goes through the trees and over Rae’s creek en route to his second Masters in ’10
“The greatest shot of his life” is how commentator Nick Faldo described it. Throughout his career, Phil Mickelson has been known to throw caution to the wind and go for broke. Sometimes it cost him (four years earlier at Winged Foot) but on this particular day, it propelled him to his second green jacket.
Having overtaken 54 hole leader Lee Westwood with a birdie at Golden Bell, Lefty looked to extend his lead on the final hole at Amen Corner but pulled his drive right and into the trees. Smack in the middle of twin pines in fact, and with a long 207 yards to clear Rae’s creek and get on in two. Mortals would dutifully punch out and take their chances on an up and down birdie, but Phil took a 6 iron and split the uprights, landing on the green and setting up an easy two putt that seemed to break poor Westwood’s spirit.
Bubba’s banana hook slams the door in 2012
In a truly epic Masters Sunday, Bubba Watson saved par with one of the most amazing golf shots you will ever see. On the second hole of a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen (who’s albatross at 2 would be on this list if it weren’t for what happened next), Bubba hooked a drive deep into the magnolias on the par 4 10th.
Any professional golfer not named Bubba Watson would’ve had no choice but to take their medicine and punch out. After all, Oosthuizen had also gotten into trouble and was laying short of the green in 2. But Bubba did what only Bubba can do, turning a 52 degree wedge into a magic wand to bend his ball nearly 90 degrees and to within 10 feet of the pin. Two putts later, and another Watson would wear the green jacket again.
Bracket Challenge: The 16 Most Memorable Masters Moments
So that’s a wrap on our 16 Most Memorable Masters Moments. Thanks for sticking with us and we hope you enjoyed the recaps. Now the moment you’ve been waiting for: the winner!
During the second week of April in 2020, when we’d normally have Masters fever, we instead had to settle for replays from some of the best tournament rounds in recent history. It was the best possible substitution, and we appreciated the #MastersRewind. One thing is for sure; it gave us a renewed appreciation for the winner of our bracket challenge, a memory that won nearly 50% of the brackets.
Jack’s 1986 final round in Augusta was simply magical, and we say a very deserving champion indeed! Thank you to everyone who participated, and we look forward to November 2020.