Oh, to be Jim Nantz. He moves from a courtside seat at a thrilling national championship game to a perch amid the stately Georgia pines for my favorite event of the sporting calendar.
Although a toughened and “Tiger-proofed” Augusta National has penalized the risk-takers in recent years, the back nine on Sunday at the Masters still provides some of the greatest drama in sports. I’ve looked back over my decades of Masters-watching and come up with my own top 7 Masters Moments.
7. Player’s Charge, 1978. A still-trim, still-feisty Gary Player goes wild on Sunday, shooting a 64 and erasing a seven-shot deficit to win by one. Player finishes well before the other leaders and has to wait until Hubert Green misses a three-foot birdie to tie to claim his third Green Jacket.
6. Norman’s Collapse, 1996. Star-crossed Greg Norman truly earns his crown as the king of Masters heartbreak. He squanders a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo, shooting a 78 to Faldo’s 67 and losing by five. It’s Faldo’s third green jacket.
5. Couples Defies Gravity, 1992. Nursing a slim lead on Sunday, Fred Couples comes to the diabolical par-3 12th, the scene of so many disasters, and narrowly averts one himself when his mis-clubbed tee shot somehow clings to the bank instead of trickling down into Rae’s Creek. Couples goes on to beat Ray Floyd for his only major.
4. Larry Mize, 1987. Playing a few miles from his home, the quiet, unassuming Mize hits the shot heard round the golf world, holing an impossible 140-foot pitch shot on the second playoff hole to deny Greg Norman a green jacket.
3. One for the Swoosh, 2005. The moment will always be etched in our memories — the ball hanging tantalizingly on the edge of the cup on No. 16, the Nike logo momentarily freeze-framed on our television screens before the ball tumbles into the hole, unleashing an awkward golfer high-five moment between Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams that detracts only slightly from the event. To answer your question, Verne Lundquist — no, in our lives, we’ve never seen anything like it. Woods goes on to wins his fourth (and most recent) Green Jacket in a playoff with Chris DiMarco.
2. Lefty’s Leap into History, 2004. Sporting a bemused grin, as though he’s actually enjoying the pressure-packed final round, Phil Mickelson gets the major monkey off his back, following up an opening-round 72 with three straight 69s to hold off a charging Ernie Els. Mickelson’s clinching putt on 18 and subsequent leap for joy provide one of golf’s great cathartic moments.
1. Jack’s Back. It’s 1986, and Jack Nicklaus is little more than a footnote to the proceedings at Augusta. Heading into the final round, he is four shots back and still below everyone’s radar. Jack birdies 9, 10 and 11 to creep up the leaderboard. A bogey at 12 calms the frenzy, but he gets it back with a birdie at 13. Then, an eagle putt at 15, a near-hole-in-one at 16, and a birdie at 17 unleash roars that rattle the pines. Nicklaus’s 65 puts him at 9-under, and his competitors, seemingly shaken by this turn-back-the-clock day at Augusta National, stumble home one by one. Jack needs only 33 strokes to complete the final ten holes of the greatest Masters of them all.
— Rob Doster is senior editor for Athlon Sports.