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Thursday marks the beginning of perhaps the most recognizable and prestigious golf tournament played in the world.  Some call The Masters the Super Bowl of golf.  The beautiful course in Augusta, Georgia, the green jackets, the international attention…The Masters is a tournament that all players circle on their calendar and strive to win.

Being awarded the coveted green jacket is what some consider the pinnacle of professional golf. This year there is plenty of excitement and anticipation as the field is one of the best in years and features the return of golf’s most recognizable name, Tiger Woods.  There have been plenty of memorable tournaments in Augusta over the years, so here are some of the top performances in the history of The Masters.

1953 Masters- Ben Hogan

Hogan came into the 1953 Masters as ready as anyone to capture a victory, going so far as to reserve a room with a high enough ceiling to take practice swings in between rounds.  The number five had a lot of meaning for Hogan that week as he broke the scoring record by five strokes while winning the tournament by the same margin. He played one of the best and most consistent 72 holes of his career and rode that wave to an amazing year of accomplishments.  Hogan went on to win both the British and U.S. Open’s that year, an achievement that has yet to be matched in all the time since.

1964 Masters- Arnold Palmer

This would be final of seven major tournaments that Palmer would win in his long and illustrious career.  It was also the fourth time that he won The Masters, but this was by far his best performance at Augusta.  Palmer’s iron play was superb and he ended up winning by six strokes, the largest margin of victory of any of his Masters wins.

1965 Masters- Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus is one of the best golfers to ever play the game and he has the championships and accolades to back that up.  That being said, the ’65 Masters was Nicklaus at his best.  He dominated his peers and played the Augusta course as well as anyone had before, winning the green jacket by nine strokes.  Nicklaus called his third round 64 the best round of golf he ever played, and with 10 pars and 8 birdies it’s easy to see why.

1978 Masters- Gary Player

This was one of, if not the, best final-round comebacks The Masters tournament had seen up until that point. Player began the final round seven strokes behind the leader.  He went on to play a record-tying 18 holes, shooting a 64 to tie the then-tournament record for best round, while also shooting a 30 on the back nine, another tie of a then-record.  After birdieing seven of the last ten holes, Player had to sit and wait to see if his score would hold up.  It did.

1986 Masters- Jack Nicklaus

Speaking of amazing comebacks, Nicklaus’ play on the final nine holes of the ’86 Masters is something that will be remembered forever.  Five different players held at least a share of the lead during the final round as Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Tom Kite and Seve Ballesteros were all duking it out with Nicklaus down the stretch.  After playing the first eight holes at even par, Nicklaus picked up three straight birdies to begin his charge towards the top of the leaderboard.

The magic really started on the 15th hole when Nicklaus nailed a 12-foot eagle putt to pull within two shots of the leader. He’d birdie the par three 16th after hitting his tee shot within 3 feet of the pin and went into the second-to-last hole in a three-way tie for the lead. Nicklaus then sank an 18-foot birdie putt on 17 to move into the lead for good, a moment that is one of the most memorable in golf history. His score of 30 on the back nine led him to his sixth Masters title, and at the age of 46 he became the oldest person to ever win the tournament.

1997 Masters- Tiger Woods

This was the beginning of the Tiger Woods era as the 21-year-old came into Augusta for the first time and absolutely dominated the field.  He shot a record 270 total over the four rounds and won by 12 strokes.  Between his amazing distance off the tee and pinpoint putting Woods looked unstoppable, and for a long while, he was.  Woods’ first major victory would mark a changing of the guard as golf had a new superstar that would dominate the sport for years to come.

2004 Masters- Phil Mickelson

It was a long time coming for both Mickelson and golf fans around the world, but the popular leftie finally won his first major championship.  He battled Ernie Els during the final round and Mickelson held him off despite Els making two eagles that day.  In a Nicklaus-esque charge, Mickelson birdied five of the last seven holes to capture the green jacket.  The win was highlighted by a downhill birdie putt on the 18th hole to seal the victory, and to this day it stands as one of the most popular victories with golf fans since Nicklaus’ comeback in ’86.

Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)

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