The hollowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Course are not just lined with beautiful pine trees, flowing creeks and gorgeous Azaleas, they’re lined with the history of The Masters, the greatest tournament in golf. Walking through Augusta is like walking through a living, breathing golf museum, designed to pay homage to the greats who managed to take home the most sought-after tailored item in the sports world — the unmistakable green jacket. With the 79th incarnation of The Masters tournament set to begin shortly, let’s revisit the five greatest masters wins in its illustrious history.
While Greg Norman had a remarkable professional golf career by most standards, he will always be remembered for squandering a six-stroke lead at The Masters in 1996. Despite this unquestionable implosion by the Aussie, it’s his defeat in 1987 to Larry Mize that might have been even more unbelievable.
Mize and Norman shot par on the first playoff hole to outlast the great Seve Ballesteros, who three-putt for bogey. On the next hole, both golfers hit solid drives. Mize then missed his approach shot; Norman put his 40 feet away from the pin on the green and appeared poised for the win. However, Mize incredibly holed out his chip for birdie, making Norman’s 40-foot putt feel much longer than it did moments before. Norman would miss the putt, and Mize would claim the green jacket and a most improbable Masters victory.
The seminal moment in the history of advertising for Nike Golf didn’t come from a Mad Men-esque advertising firm or a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, but from one of the greatest shots in the history of golf. As Tiger Woods’ chip shot on the 16th hole funneled towards and then teetered on the edge of the cup, the Nike logo stared straight into the camera lens for a solid second or two. The ball completed its final rotation and dropped in. From there, Woods battled Chris DiMarco, eventually birdying the first playoff hole for his third Masters victory.
Phil Mickelson has five major tournament wins, and it’s easy to laugh at his “best player to never win a major” moniker from the early 2000s. But at that time, the stigma of never winning the big one followed Mickelson around, and by the time he teed it up at the 2004 Masters — his 47th try at a major victory — the words must have weighed on him pretty heavily. On the final day at Augusta, Mickelson was able to birdie two-thirds of the legendary Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13), the 14th hole. Then he drilled a 16-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to tie Ernie Els for a lead that he had shared at the beginning of the day. Then, on the 18th, Mickelson hit a vintage 18-foot putt to silence the doubters and claim his first green jacket.
Sitting seven shots off the lead on Masters Sunday isn’t exactly an ideal position for a player of any skill level. That’s exactly where 42-year-old Gary Player his final round at the 1978 Masters. But then Player put together one of the greatest final rounds in Masters history, shooting a low-record-tying 64, including a 30 on the back nine to put himself into the lead as he walked off the 18th green. Perhaps most amazingly, Hubert Green, who won 23 PGA Tour events in his career, had a three-foot putt on 18 to tie Player and force a playoff. But Green shanked the putt, and Player claimed his third Masters title.
If somebody asks you a Masters-related trivia question and you’re not sure of the answer, your best bet is to reply with “Jack Nicklaus.” The Golden Bear had done it all in a golf sense by the time the 1986 Masters rolled around. He had won the tournament five times already and was considered by most to be the most accomplished golfer in the sport’s history. Still, Nicklaus wasn’t done and put up a miraculous final round 65, including shooting seven-under on the final 10 holes, to enter the clubhouse one back of the leader Seve Ballesteros. Ballesteros faltered on 17 with a bogey, but then Greg Norman took a run at Nicklaus, carding birdies on 14, 15, 16 and 17 and earning a share of the lead going into the 18th hole. Unfortunately, in Norman-esque fashion, he botched his approach shot on 18 and bogeyed. Nicklaus became the oldest and by far the most accomplished Masters champion of all time with this — the greatest Masters victory in history — on his resume.
Whoever bests the field at Augusta National in this year’s Masters will immediately join the ranks of golf’s greatest. Perhaps if they’re lucky, they won’t just win The Masters, but they’ll use golf’s most beautiful canvas to create the next Masters masterpiece.