Golf has always been a game of highs and lows, but everything seems to be magnified just that much more in major championships. The golf gods are a fickle bunch and just when you think you’re on their side, they can come back to bite you just like that. Here’s a look back on 10 of the toughest breaks in major championship history.
Tiger Woods, 2013 Masters
Tiger was about to take sole possession of the lead of the 2013 Masters until he struck a wedge from 87-yards almost too perfectly during the second round. It clanked off the pin and went darting into the pond that guards the front of the green. Woods then executed an improper drop, which was called out by a viewer watching on TV, and was handed a two-shot penalty the next day. It ultimately went down as a triple bogey the hole leaving him five shots back heading into the weekend, which was eventually won by Adam Scott.
Byron Nelson, 1946 U.S. Open
After Lord Byron hit his lay-up second shot at the par-5 13th at Cleveland’s Canterbury Golf Club, the gallery engulfed him. Nelson’s caddie tried to duck under the ropes but ended up tripping and accidentally stepping on Nelson’s ball. A one-stroke penalty was issued, which dropped Nelson back into a tie for the lead where he ultimately lost in a 36-hole playoff. Had the caddie’s misstep not happened, Nelson would have been the victor in his final season of tournament golf before retiring.
Hubert Green, 1978 Masters
Gary Player held the clubhouse lead during the 1978 Masters when Hubert Green stuck his approach shot on 18 to three feet away to force a playoff. He stood over his ball, then backed away. Nerves? Not quite. Afterward, he said he heard CBS Radio’s Jim Kelly’s voice. When he stood back over his putt, he pushed it and missed, handing Player his third green jacket.
T.C. Chen, 1985 U.S. Open
Taiwan’s T.C. Chen was in command during the ’85 U.S. Open. In the first round, he carded the first double-eagle in U.S. Open history. During a rainy final round, everything fell apart. Stuck firmly in some sticky rough, Chen double-hit his ball. He was penalized one stroke, making an eight. He would eventually lose to Andy North by, you guessed it, one shot. His succinct evaluation of what had happened was simply, “I make double-par.”
Roberto De Vicenzo, 1968 Masters
A critical scoring error cost De Vicenzo a green jacket in 1968. Golf, being a game based around honor, has strict rules about scorecards that the players must adhere to. After 72 holes, De Vicenzo thought he had tied Bob Goalby to force a playoff. Tommy Aaron, De Vicenzo’s playing partner, mistakenly marked that De Vicenzo had made a 4 on the 17th instead of the 3 he actually made. De Vicenzo signed the card without correcting this error. The rules of golf state he had to keep the higher score since he signed off on it. “Such a stupid I am,” was all the Argentinian said.
Phil Mickelson, 2012 Masters
Given that Phil already had three Masters wins at this point, this one will sit at the back of our list. During a final round charge, Mickelson cut a 4-iron right into the grandstand. Instead of the usual drop into a favorable lie, his ball ricocheted off a railing and rolled into a dense area of trees and bamboo. He ended up with the dreaded triple on the hole, ultimately finishing in a tie for third.
Arnold Palmer, 1961 Masters
Gary Player and Arnold Palmer provided some late round fireworks during the ’61 Masters. Player’s approach to the 18th green landed in the bunker behind the hole which he was able to get up and down without an issue to finish at 8-under. Palmer, who was leading by one found the same bunker, but flew recovery shot over the green and into a TV tower, failing to get it up and down. Player would be the first non-American to win the Masters.
Jean Van de Velde, 1999 British Open
Van de Velde needed nothing more than a double-bogey on 18 to claim the Claret Jug. It started with a bad decision to hit a driver off the tee. He then pushed a 2-iron into the grandstand. His thought process was that he would get a free drop and be safe from the water, but then the unexpected happened. The ball careened off a railing in the grandstand right into some of the toughest rough on the course. From there he would end up in the burn, then the bunker en route to carding a triple bogey which got him into the playoff, which he would go on to lose.
Harry Bradshaw, 1949 British Open
Bradshaw was leading the 1949 Open Championship when his drive on the 5th hole during the second round would slice into the rough and actually find itself inside a broken beer bottle (pictured above). Instead of calling over a rules official, he took a hack closing his eyes at impact, sending it no more than 25 yards in front of him leading to a double bogey and a tie with Bobby Locke, which he’d go on to lose. If only he called over that rules official!
Richard Boxall, 1991 British Open
This break could be the worst break of them all (pun intended). Boxall was only three shots behind the leader on the ninth tee of the third round. He swung and immediately fell to the ground screaming. Those around him at the time claim hearing an audible crack. It turns out he snapped his left shin bone and needed to be carted to a nearby hospital. Needless to say, he was forced to WD, “anything not to play with Colin Montgomerie” indeed.