The Masters should be happening this weekend. We should be listening to the dulcet tones of Jim Nantz reminding us that the tournament is “a tradition unlike any other” and watching the world’s best golfers tee off on bright green courses under a cloudless sky.
We should be, but we’re not. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the Masters back to November, seven months in the future. Until then, there will be no live shots of golfers struggling at Amen Corner, no tinkly piano music to welcome us back from commercial breaks, and no arresting crowd roars when a golfer completes a tricky shot. Does spring really begin without the Masters? This is the year we find out.
One thing to be thankful for: we live in the age of the internet. Even though the Masters is on hold, we can entertain ourselves (and possibly annoy our families) all weekend by taking advantage of vast library of Masters content that Augusta National has uploaded to YouTube. If you’re missing the Masters, here are four final rounds to watch that will help fill that Masters-shaped hole in your heart.
Ben Crenshaw’s emotional triumph in 1995
The backstory is really important for this one. Crenshaw’s longtime mentor and coach, Harvey Penick, died just a week before the 1995 Masters began. Crenshaw served as a pallbearer at his funeral, and the next day traveled to Georgia for the Masters.
Crenshaw, who was 43 in 1995, had won the Masters in 1984. He had missed three cuts in his last four starts and wasn’t expected to win, but found himself near the top of the leaderboard throughout the tournament. On the final day he was fighting with Davis Love III for the lead, and maintained a one-stroke advantage even after bogeying the 18th. After the putt went in and his victory was secured, Crenshaw covered his face and wept, consumed by all the emotions he’d been holding in for the past week.
“He [Penick] was with me the whole way,” Crenshaw said of his unexpected Masters win. “I told some people I had a 15th club in my bag and it was Harvey. He put his hand on my shoulder.”
Penick was a putting genius who taught Crenshaw how to master the greens — it’s how Crenshaw earned the nickname Gentle Ben. During the 1995 Masters, Crenshaw didn’t have a single three-put during the entire tournament.
The final round of the 2011 Masters was a messy, glorious roller coaster ride, the kind that only golf can deliver.
Rory McIlroy entered the final round of play with a four-shot lead and was poised to win his first-ever major championship… but then the golf began, and so did McIlroy’s historic collapse. He ended up shooting an 80 that day, the worst round for any pro leading after 54 holes in the history of Augusta National. That turned his four-shot lead into a 10-stroke deficit behind the eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel.
Schwartzel, who started the day four shots off the lead, was the eventual winner in every sense. Eight different players held a share of the lead in the final round, and at one point five players on the back-nine were tied for first all at once. But out of the shadows came Schwartzel, who had never won a major before. On the front-nine he’d birdied, bogeyed, and eagled, but his play on the very back of the back-nine was pure exhilaration.
Schwartzel birdied the 15th. Then he birdied the 16th. It felt like something special was happening when he birdied the 17th, giving him a one-shot lead. It seemed impossible that he would birdie on the 18th hole… but then he did. Schwartzel birdied the final four holes at Augusta National, winning his first major tournament by two strokes.
Phil Mickelson’s long-awaited green jacket in 2004
Mickelson’s journey to his first-ever major championship win is filled with thrills and plenty of joy. The fan favorite had some close calls at major championships, but had never been able to close one out. At the 2004 Masters, that all changed.
Tied for the lead after 54 holes, Mickelson fell behind early in the final round after bogeying holes 3, 5, and 6. Ernie Els, meanwhile, shot from fourth to first with two birdies and two eagles in the final 12 holes.
Mickelson dug deep and found what he needed to climb out of the hold he’d dug himself. Three straight birdies on the 12th, 13th, and 14th holes tied him with Els. He fell behind after making par on the 15th, but tied again with a birdie on 16. After parring the 17th, he needed to birdie the 18th to avoid a playoff.
He got it. Mickelson’s second shot on 18 put him nearly 20 feet from the hole, but you could see him struggling to contain his excitement as he walked up to the green. By the time he set up for his game-winning putt, he was practically vibrating with energy. His club bonked the ball, and after a long crawl it curled into the hole. Mickelson leapt for joy. The green jacket, and his first major championship, was finally his.
Jack Nicklaus’s unexpected comeback in 1986
The Golden Bear, one of the most talented golfers to ever pick up a club, was not expected to win the Masters in 1986. At 46 years old, Jack Nicklaus had started his late-career/pre-Senior Tour slide and hadn’t won a Major since 1980. He was also facing intense competition from the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, and Tom Kite.
As the final round commenced, eight golfers were in front of Nicklaus on the leaderboard, and they’d all fall by the end of the day. Through eight holes he was still six shots of the lead, but then the Golden Bear started his great charge. With his blonde bowl-cut gleaming in the sunlight, he shot a stunning 30 on the back-nine.
Nicklaus played like a man possessed. In the final nine holes he had five birdies, one eagle, and a solitary bogey on 12. He was allergic to pars, making just two from the 9th on. And he was helped along by his competition, who failed to match him at every turn. Ballesteros bogeyed two of the final four holes. Norman would have tied with Nicklaus if he hadn’t bogeyed the 18th. Kite simply couldn’t equal Nicklaus’s late charge.
At the end of the day, Jack was alone at the top. He told writers that winning the Masters in “the December of my career” meant a lot to him, and that he’d never heard the crowds roar so loud.
Nicklaus’s surprise victory in 1986 gave him his 18th and final Major win, a number that no golfer has matched or surpassed. It also made him the oldest Masters champion in the history of the tournament, a record that still stands today.
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