Greatest Masters Tournaments
The Masters is considered the crown jewel of golf, and for many who attempted to conquer Augusta National, the experience was either memorable or a heartbreak they will never forget.
The names who competed are the greatest of the greats — from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Nick Faldo to Tiger Woods, and more. The big challenge is finding the 25 best Masters ever played.
The focus is not always how someone won. Often times, it is how someone lost, or maybe got the big break they needed to pull out victory. Sure, there were great performances, but the Masters is more than that. It’s an event that sticks in fans’ minds forever.
Here are the top 25 of all time.
25. Patrick Reed Pushed to the Finish
What was memorable: Patrick Reed found himself in a dogfight with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. Down by nine shots, Spieth shot a 64 to join the chase, then came up two strokes short of a potential playoff. Fowler kept pace and birdied 18 to get within a stroke while Reed was still on the course.
End result: Reed gutted it out. The finish wasn’t pretty — he had four birdies and three bogeys — but he hit a clutch putt on 18 to win his first major.
Bottom line: In his previous five starts at the Masters, Reed did not even finish in the top 20. The irony is he knows the course better than anyone being a former All-American at Augusta State University.
24. Sandy Lyle Comes Through on 18
What was memorable: Sandy Lyle held the lead after 36 and 54 holes, but was tied with Mark Calcavecchia heading to No. 18. After finding the fairway bunker off the tee, Lyle hit a 7-iron approach that went past the flag, up the slope and rolled back down to finish 10 feet from the hole.
End result: Lyle made the birdie putt on 18 and set up a wild celebration around the green. Even to this day, when someone hits a shot that rolls back to the pin at the Masters, it’s referred to as "shades of Sandy Lyle."
Bottom line: Lyle, from Scotland, was the first Masters champion to come from the United Kingdom.
23. Olazabal’s Big Comeback
What was memorable: Three years earlier, Jose Olazabal couldn’t even walk due to back problems. His career looked over. But OIazabal recovered, and in 1999, the Spaniard battled Greg Norman in a terrific back-and-forth match.
End result: Olazabal matched some of Norman’s greatest shots to win by two strokes over Davis Love III and three ahead of Norman. Olazabal was the only player to win two Masters in the 1990s, but to make a recovery like he did from his injury was as remarkable as the victory itself.
Bottom line: Olazabal finished with an 8-under-par 280 for the tournament, but Norman could not escape disappointment. He was in the final group of a major championship for the eighth time, with a fourth golden opportunity to win the Masters. And he fell short again.
22. Spieth’s Monumental Collapse
What was memorable: This Masters was hard to watch. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ, appeared to have another title wrapped up, heading to the back nine with a five-stroke advantage after leading since the first round. Then, things unraveled in a hurry. The debacle culminated with a quadruple bogey on No. 12 and a final-round 73.
End result: Danny Willett was the great benefactor, shooting a final-round 67 for his first major victory. Spieth lost by three strokes in a tie for second with Lee Westwood.
Bottom line: Spieth says he didn't choke. He blamed the title defense that was wasn't on a swing flaw. But the pain on his face was palpable.
On a side note, this tournament was the final Masters appearance for Tom Watson, who missed the cut. He won two green jackets in his career.
21. and 20. Faldo Goes Back-to-Back
Years: 1989 and 1990
What was memorable: In two straight years, Nick Faldo won the Masters in a playoff, capitalizing on another player’s mistakes. In 1989, Scott Hoch missed an easy tap-in putt on the first playoff hole, which would’ve won everything, and Faldo won on the next hole. The following year, Raymond Floyd shanked a 7-iron into the greenside pond, and all Faldo needed was a par to win in the second playoff hole.
End result: Faldo became only the second player in history to win the Masters in consecutive years.
Bottom line: Champions know how to close. Hoch could have won in regulation in 1989, but missed a four-foot putt on the 17th hole. Floyd had a four-stroke lead going into the final round. Faldo raised his game under pressure. That's why he got successive green jackets for his closet.
19. Sergio Wins a Major
What was memorable: Perhaps fans were waiting for Sergio Garcia to endure another frustrating finish in a major as he battled Justin Rose to the end to force a playoff. Garcia built a three-stroke lead early, but that disappeared with Rose taking a two-shot lead after 11. Then, Garcia caught Rose, setting up a classic toe-to-toe finish.
End result: In the first playoff hole, Rose’s drive on 18 went into the trees, and he was forced to chip out. Garcia was on the fairway, and his approach to the hole landed just 12 feet away. He sank the birdie putt to win his first major.
Bottom line: This ending was a long time coming. Before winning, Garcia had played in 18 Masters and 73 majors, the longest drought of any player in history. He never worried that his career would be defined as the guy who never could win a major. And he was rewarded for his grit.
18. Crazy Celebration for Woosnam
What was memorable: Ian Woosnam’s memorable eight-foot putt for victory set up a celebration that was pretty funny when his caddy nearly crushed the 5-foot-4 Woosnam from Wales to death.
End result: Woosnam earned his first and only major victory with a one-stroke win at the Masters.
Bottom line: Woosnam may have been a one-hit wonder, but the golfing world got an introduction to a future star. Phil Mickelson, a junior at Arizona State at the time, was a low amateur in this Masters and made the cut, finishing with a 2-over 290, good for a tie for 46th place.
17. Couples Catches a Huge Break
What was memorable: Fred Couples had the lead coming to No. 12, a par-3 that could be the most dangerous hole on the course, particularly the pin placement. Couples seemed to botch his tee shot, hitting the bank on the far side of Rae’s Creek. For anyone else, the ball would roll back into the water. Somehow, Couples’ shot planted in the tall grass and stood where it landed.
End result: Couples chipped up and saved par on the way to a two-stroke victory over Raymond Floyd.
Bottom line: Sometimes, the golf gods smile on you. Couples said all he wanted to do was hit the center of the green and take his par. Instead, he relied on pure luck to save the day. "That was the biggest break of my life,’" Couples later said.
16. Mickelson's Big Gamble Pays Off
What was memorable: Phil Mickelson was facing an impossible situation. His errant drive on the 13th tee sailed behind two trees and on top of pine straw. He had 187 yards to carry the creek. Of course, Phil went for it — that’s his nature. He took a 6-iron, made clean contact, split the two trees and not only cleared the creek, but landed just three feet from the pin.
End result: He birdied the 13th, birdied two more holes and won his third Masters.
Bottom line: The mental game is a huge part of golf, and Phil had plenty on his mind in this Masters. His wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, were both battling cancer at the same time.
15. Bubba’s Banana Shot
What was memorable: Bubba Watson had pulled his drive off the 10th fairway well to the right. He was 165 yards away from the hole sitting on top of pine needles, flanked by trees and magnolias. He took out a 52-degree gap wedge, popped the ball in the air and hooked it brilliantly just a few feet from the hole.
End result: Watson still had to battle Louis Oosthuizen down the stretch, but he prevailed in the second playoff hole. Oosthuizen earlier made a double eagle, only the fourth recorded in Masters history.
Bottom line: Gerry Lester Watson's father nicknamed him after football player Bubba Smith — and Watson displayed some similar toughness at Augusta.
How did he sum up his final day? "I don't even know what happened on the back nine. ... Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head, and somehow I'm here talking to you with a green jacket on."
14. The Chip That Saved Tiger
What was memorable: Tied for the lead with Chris DiMarco, Tiger Woods was in a tough spot at the 16th hole. DiMarco was on the green, and Woods in the rough with an impossible chip down the hill. Well, Tiger loves the impossible. Instead of chipping straight directly to the pin, he chipped 20 feet to his left where the ball would break back toward the hole. The ball went to the pin, stopped momentarily at the edge of the hole, and dropped in for a birdie, arguably the greatest chip shot in Masters history.
End result: That shot gave Tiger a two-stroke lead. He squandered the advantage, and DiMarco forced a playoff. But Tiger went on to win his fourth green jacket with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
Bottom line: Woods was in his prime. He has not won another Masters since this victory, part of a three-year stretch (2005-2008) in which he won 25 tournaments, including six majors.
But no one lasts forever. Former champions Jack Nicklaus and Billy Casper played their last Masters tournament.
13. More Frustration for Norman
What was memorable: Greg Norman held the lead from the first round until well into the final round, and his first green jacket was within reach. After going up by four shots through seven holes, the wheels came off the wagon. He found water in two holes and lost the tournament.
End result: Nick Faldo capitalized again on the misfortunes of others and won the Masters. Norman wound up five strokes back after shooting a 78.
Bottom line: "The Shark" won two majors, but he never could solve Augusta. Norman ended his career without winning the Masters, finishing as runner-up three times.
12. Scorecard Goof Decides the Tournament
What was memorable: Perhaps the most bizarre finish in Masters history. Roberto De Vincenzo birdied the 17th hole, but his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, mistakenly writes a par-4. When De Vincenzo signed the card recording the higher score, he lost.
End result: Di Vincenzo was getting ready for a playoff with Bob Goalby when he got the bad news that he signed an incorrect scorecard. Aaron alerted a Masters official of the wrong score at 66. After a meeting, Goalby was awarded the victory.
Bottom line: "I play golf all over the world for 30 years, and now all I can think of is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful tournament," De Vicenzo said.
Even worse, the gaffe happened on his 45th birthday. Although he lived another 49 years (until age 94), De Vicenzo became known as much for the Masters scorecard error as his 1967 British Open victory that made him the first Argentine to win a major.
11. Sneed Gives One Away
What was memorable: Ed Sneed was in cruise control in the final round until he got to the 16th hole, holding a three-stroke lead. That’s when the parade of misfortune took place. Sneed totally went through a meltdown with three straight bogeys on 16, 17 and 18 that forced a playoff between Sneed, Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson.
End result: Zoeller, playing in his first Masters, drained a long putt on the second playoff to become the first player to win his first Masters.
Bottom line: Sneed won four PGA Tour events in his career, but never a major, which makes the Masters meltdown even harder to take.
10. Nicklaus on Survival Mode
What was memorable: Jack Nicklaus found himself in a dogfight with Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf in one of the best Masters in history. Each player gave everything he had as the leaderboard got shuffled down the stretch.
End result: With three of the biggest stars in battle, Nicklaus led by one stroke going to the 18th hole, but he missed a 12-foot putt. Miller and Weiskopf had chances to force a playoff, only to settle for par, giving Nicklaus his fifth green jacket.
Bottom line: Don't give "The Golden Bear" any daylight. Many opponents had to learn the hard way, as Miller and Weiskopf did on this day.
In social justice news, Lee Elder became the first African-American player to play in the Masters. He missed the cut, but took a significant step to allow African-Americans to compete at Augusta.
9. Phil Wins His First Major
What was memorable: Phil Mickelson had his hands full in the final round with Ernie Els over the back nine. Els played two groups ahead of Mickelson and ended at 8-under and tied with Mickelson. On 18, Mickelson was clutch, landing his approach shot on the green and making the birdie putt to win. Mickelson’s jump for joy was iconic.
End result: The 2004 Masters got a big monkey off Mickelson’s back since he was unsuccessful in his last 48 major tournaments.
Bottom line: "It validates your ability to perform under pressure," Mickelson said to Augusta.com. "So I've already now performed and executed shots at the highest level under pressure, and doing it at the Masters that final nine is the most difficult time to do it."
8. Ben Crenshaw gets emotional
What was memorable: Ben Crenshaw came into the tournament with a heavy heart as his mentor Harvey Penick died just a few days before the Masters. On the Wednesday before the first round, Crenshaw and Tom Kite attended Penick’s funeral and went back to Augusta that night.
End result: Crenshaw somehow pulled it together and defeated Davis Love III by a stroke. Crenshaw cried after making the winning putt, one of the more tear-jerking moments in Masters history.
Bottom line: Crenshaw never won another major, but the 1995 Masters was Tiger Woods' debut at Augusta as a 19-year-old, qualifying by winning the U.S. Amateur in 1994. He was the leading amateur and the only amateur to make the cut. Of note, Tiger’s average driving distance was the longest in the tournament.
7. Player’s Amazing Rally
What was memorable: Gary Player, 42, needed to play the Masters of his life. He entered the final round eight shots back with little chance for victory. But as the day went on, something special happened.
End result: Player roared down the stretch with a remarkable seven birdies over the last 10 holes, and a course-tying round of 64 was good enough to win a green jacket.
Bottom line: Player claimed the Masters title for his third and final time (1961, 1974). Of course, one man's joy is another's woe. Hubert Green came into the final round with a three-stroke lead, but shot a 72. In fact, he had a birdie putt opportunity to tie on 18, but was distracted by a radio announcer and missed the putt.
6. Hogan and Snead in a Classic
What was memorable: Two of the game’s greatest players, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, both at the ripe age of 41, had a memorable showdown that went to an 18-hole Monday playoff. The two had won the previous three Masters.
End result: Snead came away with a one-stroke victory over Hogan. Snead wound up shooting 1-over for the tournament, the highest total for a winning score in Masters history, tied with Jack Burke Jr. and Zach Johnson.
Bottom line: This win was Snead’s seventh and final major victory. Hogan was the reigning champion for the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open but, like Snead, would not win another major.
5. Arnie’s Army Celebrates
What was memorable: With Ken Venturi sitting in the clubhouse with a one-stroke lead, Arnold Palmer staged one of the most daring finishes in history and a coming-out party for his large flock of fans known as "Arnie’s Army."
End result: After just missing a birdie putt on 16, Palmer barely made a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 that had him dancing around the green, On 18, Palmer’s approach shot came within four feet, and he sank the putt for victory.
Bottom line: Arnold Palmer didn't win 62 PGA tour events and seven majors by accident. He remains the only player in Masters history to birdie the final two holes for victory.
4. Greatest Shot Ever
What was memorable: Not many people gave Gene Sarazen a chance when he was in the fairway at the par-5 15th hole, 235 yards away. A few spectators were present at the green as Sarazen drilled a shot with his 4-wood that skipped on the green and went in for a double eagle. It was dubbed "the shot heard around the world."
End result: Sarazen caught Craig Wood, forcing a 36-hole playoff that Sarazen won by five strokes.
Bottom line: The 1935 event was only the second Masters played. It was known then as Augusta National Invitational Tournament. Sarazen’s shot was credited with bringing popularity to the tournament.
3. Mize Denies Norman
What was memorable: The end of this tournament was remarkable. You had Larry Mize, an Augusta native, and Greg Norman, with a sea of frustrations at the Masters, and Seve Ballesteros, who was eliminated after the first playoff hole on No. 10. On 11, Norman played it conservative and left himself a 50-foot birdie putt, assuming two putts would win. Why? Maze was well right, 140 feet from the hole. Was the Norman jinx over?
End result: Mize pulled out his 56-degree wedge, pitched the ball with two hops to the green, and then it tracked like a putt all the way to the hole and fell in for a birdie. A shocked Norman missed his lengthy birdie putt, and Mize won.
Bottom line: To this day, Mize is the only Augusta native to win the Masters.
2. Jack Turns Back the Clock
What was memorable: Jack Nicklaus gave fans a blast from the past at the age of 46 as he put together a final round that many will not forget. Five different players held the lead in the final round, but Nicklaus shot a 30 for the back nine and 9-under for the tournament.
End result: Nicklaus outlasted Tom Kite and Greg Norman and emerged to become the oldest golfer to win the Masters, taking home his record sixth green jacket. His first Masters win came in 1963.
Bottom line: The winner’s share was $144,000, over seven times more than what Nicklaus earned in his first Masters victory.
1. Tiger Serves Notice
What was memorable: What Tiger Woods did to the field in this Masters was awe-inspiring. Anyone who wondered if Tiger was for real or not came away from Augusta with no doubts. Tiger took over the lead in the second round, and there was no looking back.
End result: It was vintage Tiger Woods as he tore up Augusta with a 65 on Friday and a 66 on Saturday to take a nine-shot lead. Domination was putting it mildly as he finished with a 69 and a record 18-under par, winning by 12 strokes.
Bottom line: Everybody noticed. Tiger’s final-round performance was seen by 44 million television viewers. Yes, Tiger Woods put golf on the map again.