Masters Mulligans - Part 2

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What a second opportunity might have meant?
Posted on
April 6, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Part 1

Masters Mulligans - Part 2
Jack Nicklaus takes the lead on the 17th hole at the Masters in 1986.
(AP Photo/Joe Benton)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


1978 Masters -- Green Cashes Out

The 1978 Masters will long be remembered for the fantastic final round by Gary Player. The talented South African fired a course record tying 64 featuring a 30 on the back nine to propel himself to the top of the leader board. A trio of golfers -- including defending champion Tom Watson, Rod Funseth and Hubert Green all came to the final hole with an opportunity to secure a playoff with Player.

Each man came up empty but it was Green's failure that lives long in Masters memories. Hubert played a marvelous approach to 3 feet for a tying birdie. Over the putt, Green was distracted by nearby radio commentary and backed away. After resetting himself, Green missed what could have meant the first Masters sudden death playoff. 

The win for Player marked his final major championship -- 9 in total. Green's career was certainly productive with two majors wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship respectively in concert with 19 PGA Tour titles. But the inability to hole such a crucial putt at such an important moment is often remembered more so than the quality of golf Green so capably produced in his career. Sadly, Green passed away at 71 in 2018 and undoubtedly if there was ever a golf shot that someone could wish to try again it was Green's birdie putt at the 18th hole in 1978.




1979 Masters -- Sneed's Stunner

Closing out any tournament is never an easy proposition and only becomes more so when an event is a major championship.

Ed Sneed was a journeyman player for much of his professional golfing career but in 1979 at Augusta he sprang to life and going into the final round secured a five-shot cushion.

The final 18 hole at the Masters is a gut-wrenching episode for all golfers but for Sneed the weight was especially heavy given the enormity of the moment.

For 15 holes Sneed handled the pressure well and as he stepped onto the tee at the par-16th he held a three-shot edge over his closest pursuer Tom Watson. 

Over the final three holes -- Sneed had putts for par that, if any of them had fallen, would have secured the margin to earn the title. The final attempt came at the 18th -- Sneed's par putt was six feet in length and the stroke was well-executed but the ball refused to slide into the hole from the left side. Sneed walked up to the hole staring down at the ball in disbelief -- hoping, to no avail, the ball would somehow teeter into the hole. 

Sneed would eventually lose in a three-way playoff that included Watson culminating with first time Masters participant Fuzzy Zoeller winning the green jacket.

For Sneed there would never be another grand opportunity to win a major event. Three makeable putts over the final three holes.  None falling -- if ever a mulligan was needed Sneed clearly would have relished one.




1986 Masters -- How a Shark and a Matador Imploded 

The 1986 Masters will forever be remembered for the incredible rally Jack Nicklaus demonstrated with a sensational back nine total of 30. But, Jack's victory also hinged upon two of his rivals having critical late round errors allowing the Golden Bear to slide into his record 6th green jacket at the age of 46. 

Going into the final round with the lead was the dynamic Greg Norman. Looking to be the first Aussie to snare the green jacket -- Norman made a late round move with birdies at the 15th thru the 17th holes. Standing on the 18th tee -- Norman's fate was simple. A birdie and he would claim the title. At minimum, a par would force a playoff with Nicklaus. Norman found the fairway but inexplicably his 4-iron sailed way right resulting in a bogey and the start of several cruel endings Greg would endure at major championships in the final round. One can only imagine how much Greg would relish having that moment a second time. 

The other contender that day was Seve Ballesteros. The dashing two-time champion had secured the lead with a thrilling eagle at the 13th. As he stood in the fairway of the par-5 15th, the tournament was his alone to win or lose. The Spaniard chose to go for the green with his second shot and his 4-iron never had a chance plunging into the frontal pond that protects the green. If Seve had played even par golf from the 15th to the final hole he would have been at minimum in a playoff against Nicklaus. 

Two men -- two different situations -- but one common reality. How things might have turned out differently for both a Shark and Matador -- if only.




1989 Masters -- Hoch's Colossal Blunders

The cruelest fate in golf is having what many consider a "gimmie" putt and then inexplicably failing when the pressure meter rachets up considerably.".

Scott Hoch faced two such moments and, in both instances, was unable to deliver when the situation required it.

Hoch came to the 17th hole with a one stroke lead over his closest pursuer Nick Faldo. After a badly played approach, Hoch was able to pitch his ball to less than five feet. His putt never really threatened the hole. After a finishing par at the 18th, the two players engaged in a playoff. 

At the first playoff hole, the 10th, Hoch reached the green in the regulation stroke and while Faldo made bogey -- the green jacket would have been Hoch's if he could simply two-putt from 30 feet. His first putt settled less than two feet -- but above the hole. Hoch's effort in closing out the event was hard to watch. His hands twitched and his stab at the ball never had a chance. One hole later -- Faldo would birdie the par-4 11th and claim the first of three green jackets. 

Hoch was an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour and demonstrated plenty of golf talent but the failure at the 1989 Masters is forever etched in golf history alongside a similarly missed putt from Doug Sanders at the 1970 Open Championship at The Old Course at St. Andrews.




1990 Masters -- Floyd's Failure

For Raymond Floyd the 1990 Masters was a loss that still resonates. The 47-year-old was attempting to be the oldest winner of a green jacket and add to his four major championships. When Floyd birdied the always dangerous par-3 12th his lead was four shots. His closest rival Nick Faldo made a valiant charge with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th holes.  

Still, Floyd held a one-shot lead heading to the penultimate hole. From 130 yards Floyd badly pulled a short iron leaving himself upwards of 60 feet. Three putts later and the lead had vanished.

The two would head into a sudden-death playoff and after making pars at the 10th -- the 11th proved decisive. Floyd was in the fairway but badly pulled a 7-iron approach into the adjacent pond. What was once a commanding lead -- ended with a shocking total meltdown.

Much is mentioned about the pulled 7-iron but the failure at the 17th in regulation play is what put things into jeopardy for Floyd. Raymond's comments summed it up best. "This is the most devastating thing that's ever happened to me in my career. I'd had a lot of losses, but nothing like this."




2016 Masters -- Jordan's Jittery Journey

Jordan Spieth's initial start at the Masters came in 2014 and the Texan nearly accomplished two amazing achievements -- winning on his first effort at the event and setting a record for the youngest champion -- at age 20. Ultimately, Jordan finished in the runner-up position to Bubba Watson. In 2015 Spieth's return was even more eventful -- snaring the title with a record tying four-round performance.

In 2016, it appeared Spieth would join the elite ranks with just three other players in successfully defending his title. For seven consecutive rounds Spieth had held the Masters lead -- a record setting performance -- and there were few doubters he would march back into the winner's circle.

Upon getting to the 12th tee in the final round -- Spieth's lead was three over Englishman Danny Willet. Incredibly, Spieth dunked his approach into Rae's Creek and proceeded to do so a second time. What was once a foregone victory march became a procession of shock and disbelief. 

Willet would go on to win the Masters and Spieth would tie for 2nd with Lee Westwood. One can only imagine what Spieth would have done with a mulligan at that pivotal moment at the devilish 12th hole.




2019 Masters -- DJ and Brooks nearly crashed Tiger's party

The miracle win by Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters will long be remembered but fate played a key role as his two main challengers -- Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka -- each had a birdie opportunity at the 72nd hole that if successful could very well have impacted the final outcome.

If Johnson and Koepka had made birdies at the closing hole then Woods would have needed to make par at the 18th to secure the green jacket. Both men missed and Tiger had the good fortune in being able to make no more than a bogey for the win. One can only wonder if either had made it would Woods have closed out the event with a par?



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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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