Yes, we know. It’s a difficult choice. So many to choose from. So much history, so much minutiae, so much….pimento in the pimento-cheese sandwiches. But here are a few selections – let the debate begin……
Tiger Woods – 1997
Woods’ 12-shot victory in ’97 was a paradigm shift for the game. The final round was seen by 44 million TV viewers in the U.S., setting a ratings record for golf. The victory elevated Woods, at age 21, to rock-star status. He was (and remains) the youngest player ever to win the title, and the first non-white player to do so. The floodgates had opened, and the golf universe shifted on its axis, as Woods would dominate the game as nobody had before or since, elevating tournament purses and TV ratings; and a new phrase entered golf course architecture (even for Augusta’s own renovation): Tiger-proofing.
Ben Crenshaw – 1995
This was not expected. It had been a while since Crenshaw had done anything on the PGA Tour worth writing home about. Early in Masters week of 1995, Crenshaw’s mentor and instructor, the famed Harvey Penick (he of the “Little Red Book” instruction manual) passed away. Crenshaw flew back to Texas to attend Penick’s funeral on Wednesday, not returning to Augusta until that night, with the Masters starting the next day. After putting out on the final hole on Sunday to win by a single shot, Crenshaw broke down and wept on the 18th green. The gallery did as well.
Jack Nicklaus – 1986
Washed up, they said. Too old, they said. Doesn’t have the game anymore, they said. In early April of 1986, that’s what every sportswriter and armchair scratch-golfer was saying, as well as probably half the tour pros. But are you familiar with the phrase, “Don’t poke the bear”? In the final round, the Golden Bear, with his son Jackie as his caddie, went deep on the back nine of Augusta National, posting a 6-under-par 30 to win his sixth Masters title, and becoming, at age 46, the oldest Masters champion.
Bubba Watson uses a pink-shafted driver (do you have a problem with that?) and has a swing that cannot be shown to children under the age of 17, but the shot he hit on the second hole of a playoff to win the 2012 Masters still stands out as one of the most shocking and stupefying shots of this (or any) major championship. It is a shot that only he would have tried, or could have even visualized as possible. It is a shot that still bends nuclear physicists’ minds into pretzels.