Top 20: Most dramatic PGA moments
By Tom Alter, PGATOUR.COM
One man’s opinion of the 20 most dramatic moments in PGA Championship history:
1. 2000: It can be debated whether the 2000 PGA Championship is the most memorable in this championship’s history, but there is no doubt that it produced one unforgettable week of great golf. For the first two rounds at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus were paired together for the Golden Bear’s final PGA. Nicklaus came to the 36th hole needing an eagle to make the cut; he almost holed his wedge shot from the fairway. Then Woods almost holed his own wedge shot for an easy birdie to reclaim the lead heading into the weekend. Having already won that year's U.S. and British opens, Woods was playing some of the best golf the game had ever seen. But a journeyman pro named Bob May, whom Tiger looked up to when they were junior golfers in California, pushed Woods to the limit. Both shot bogey-free 31s coming in, and Woods made a sliding 5-footer to force a playoff. In the first three-hole aggregate playoff in PGA history – including Woods chasing a birdie putt into the hole on the first extra hole -- Woods held on to win his third consecutive major championship. He’d complete the Tiger Slam at the following year’s Masters.
2. 1991: John Daly was the longest of long shots at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. He was the ninth alternate to get into the field. He didn’t play a practice round. Yet Daly dominated the golf course, the field and the storylines with his Paul Bunyanesque tee shots, surprisingly deft touch and epic mullet haircut. He took the lead after a second-round 67, and never looked back as he rolled to his first of two major championships and golf immortality.
3. 1923: Two all-time greats, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen, squared off in the 36-hole, match-play final in the 1923 PGA at Pelham Country Club in Pelham Manor, N.Y. One of golf's first showmen, The Haig backed up his bravado with birdies at both the 34th and 35th holes to square the match and force extra holes for the first time in PGA Championship history. Sarazen drove into the deep rough on the second playoff hole, and showed he could also play to the gallery: “I’ll put this one up so close to the hole that it will break Walter’s heart,” he said. The Squire walked the walk with one of the best shots in golf history: a wedge to tap-in range. Hagen, perhaps the best match-play player ever, almost holed his bunker shot to tie, but it wasn’t enough. Sarazen walked off with his second consecutive PGA.
4. 1986: Greg Norman held the 54-hole lead at all four major championships in 1986. He won The Open Championship and seemed like a lock to also win the PGA Championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, when he led by four shots with one round to play. However, he was 4 over after 17 holes on Sunday to fall into a tie with rising star Bob Tway. With the pressure mounting in a Monday finish, both Norman and Tway missed the 18th green. Tway was away in the front bunker. When his shot from the sand dropped in the hole, Tway jumped almost out of his skin. Norman’s chip to tie slid by. Tway finished his magical season with four PGA TOUR victories, including his only major championship.
5. 1979: The first 71 holes of the 1979 PGA at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., weren’t particularly memorable. But then things turned unforgettable. Australian David Graham was playing so well that he shot a final-round 65, but that remarkable round included a double-bogey on the final hole to drop into a playoff with Ben Crenshaw. On the first extra hole, both players sprayed the ball but came through in the clutch: Crenshaw drained a 50-foot putt for par, and Graham made a 25-footer to tie him. Crenshaw, a fan favorite, then holed a 15-foot putt for birdie to keep the pressure on Graham, who calmly drained a 10-foot birdie to stay alive. And on the third extra hole, Graham made another birdie to claim the first of his two major championships. Crenshaw also finished his career with two majors, but was 0-8 in playoffs.
6. 1961: Jerry Barber was a little man who carried a big stick. The 45-year-old trailed Don January by four shots with just three holes to go at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club in 1961. But then Barber got the big stick, his flat stick, working. He made a 20-footer for birdie, a 40-footer for par and a 60-footer for birdie. The incredible finish sent a shocked January to an 18-hole playoff. The next day Barber trailed January by two strokes on two different times only to rally again to claim the biggest win of his career.
7. 1972: Gary Player faced an impossible shot at Oakland Hills Country Club in 1972. Coming off consecutive bogeys, Player could feel his chances of winning his second PGA slipping away after his tee shot at the 16th settled into deep rough. Player would have to summon all of his strength to clear a tall willow tree and a deep pond fronting the green to keep his chances alive. The Black Knight spent a lifetime lifting weights and exercising for such a challenge, and he came through with perhaps the best shot in his storied career: a towering 9-iron from the rough to 4 feet for an easy birdie en route to a two-shot victory.
8. 1945: The night before the 1945 PGA Championship final at Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, Byron Nelson shared with his wife, Louise, that the pressure of trying to win an eighth consecutive tournament might be too much for him. But there’s no stopping talent. Trailing Sam Byrd late in the match, Nelson birdied the 29th hole to win the first of four consecutive holes en route to a 4-and-3 victory. Lord Byron pushed the winning streak to an incomprehensible 11 tournaments, and finished the year with 18 wins. It is still the greatest season in golf history.
9. 1942: Under the cloud of World War II, the 1942 PGA Championship at Seaview Country Club in Atlantic City, N.J., became a match of Army vs. Navy. The day before Sam Snead was due to report to the Navy, he squared off in the finals against Army corporal Jim Turnesa. Snead was 3 down after the morning 18 holes, but pulled even late in the match and sealed his first major championship with a sensational 60-foot chip in on the 35th hole to win, 2 and 1.
10. 1997: Davis Love III had been labeled “the best player never to have won a major” for quite a few years. Love III ended such talk and likely entered the World Golf Hall of Fame after his victory at the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. The son of a PGA professional, Love III chipped in at the difficult par-3 12th to take control of the tournament. But the most memorable and emotional moment came after a brief rain delay when he holed out on the final green under the most famous rainbow in golf history.
11. 1946: The expression “best player never to have won a major” gets tossed around these days like BFFs. Today a number of players -- Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, et al -- have all worn that label at one time in their careers. Can you imagine the scrutiny today if a player won 30 times before claiming his first major? At the 1946 PGA Championship at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club, Ben Hogan had already won nine times that season and 30 times in his career. But he’d never won a major. The Hawk defeated Ed “Porky” Oliver, 6 and 4, to jumpstart the second half of a career that produced some of the best golf ever played: 33 more victories, including eight more major championships.
12. 1999: In 1999 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, a 19-year Spaniard named Sergio Garcia splashed onto the major scene with a dramatic charge highlighted by a brave shot off the tree roots at No. 16 and his youthful sprint up the fairway to see the miracle shot land on the green. But he was chasing history: Tiger Woods was on the verge of entering his prime. With his reworked swing now in form, Woods would not back down to Garcia. Or anyone. For years. Woods made clutch par putts coming home to win his first PGA Championship and second major.
13. 2009: Tiger Woods was 14-0 when holding the 54-hole lead in a major championship, so the final round of the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., seemed like an inevitable step in Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories. Woods’ two-shot lead was gone by the time he and Y.E. Yang almost drove the par-4 14th hole. The Korean shocked the world (including Woods, presumably) when he holed his chip for eagle. Woods now trailed by one. Could he catch Yang? Could Yang hold on? The Korean answered with one of the best shots in PGA Championship history: a hybrid 3-iron to about 10 feet at the final hole to dethrone Woods and claim the honor as the first Korean male to win a major championship.
14. 1993: Greg Norman was back on the same green -- the 18th at Inverness Club -- where he suffered a heartbreaking loss seven years earlier. This time, Norman was staring at a birdie putt to win the 1993 PGA Championship. He lipped out. On the first hole of a playoff against Paul Azinger (recently crowned “best player to never win a major”), Norman had another birdie putt at the 18th to win his first PGA. He lipped out. At the second extra hole, Azinger putted out first to put the pressure on Norman to match him. Norman’s tricky par putt lipped out. It was another crushing defeat for Norman. The lasting memory from that championship was the image of a bald Azinger posing with the Wanamaker Trophy months later as he fought off lymphoma, easily the biggest win in his career.
15. 1927: Walter Hagen made major-championship history in 1927 at Dallas’ Cedar Crest Country Club: he won the PGA Championship for the fourth consecutive year. The charisma and match-play prowess of The Haig might have been the difference in this match. Joe Turnesa got off to a good start, but seemed to get rattled on the final. Hagen came through with a 1-up victory. It was his record fifth PGA, and the ninth of his 11 majors. No player on – or off – the golf course did more to enhance the regard for professional golfers than Walter Hagen.
16. 1978: John Mahaffey wanted payback. He lost a playoff at the 1975 U.S. Open and was passed in the final round by Jerry Pate in the 1976 U.S. Open. Now it was his turn to come out on top. At Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club in 1978, Mahaffey set a PGA Championship record by overcoming a seven-shot deficit to catch third-round leader Tom Watson. Pate joined them in the sudden-death playoff. Mahaffey came through on the second extra hole with a 12-foot birdie putt for his major triumph. On the flip side, this was as close as Watson ever got to winning the PGA and completing his quest for the career Grand Slam.
17. 1968: Arnold Palmer had been frustrated in his bid to win the PGA Championship to complete his career Grand Slam. His last and best shot came in 1968 at Pecan Valley Country Club in San Antonio, Texas. Julius Boros and his smooth swing withstood the July heat. Palmer scrambled for par on the final hole, but Boros delivered his own clutch up-and-down to win by one and punch his ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 48-year-old Boros remains the oldest winner in major-championship history.
18. 2001: Can a lay-up be more memorable than a hole-in-one? David Toms would know. Toms made an ace on the 243-yard, par-3 15th hole in the third round of the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. The shot helped him take a two-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson into the final round. Mickelson, desperately looking for his first major championship, was only one shot behind by the 72nd hole. And, after missing the fairway with his tee shot, Toms was standing in the rough weighing his options: hit the perfect long-iron from the deep grass over the pond or lay up and try to make par the hard way. Toms bravely laid up. It took guts to hit a pair of wedges onto the green, and more guts to drain the clutch 12-footer for par and his lone major championship.
19. 1974: How good was Lee Trevino? The Merry Mex could find an old putter in the attic of a stranger’s home and use it to win a major championship that same week. That’s what he did at the 1974 PGA Championship at Tanglewood Golf Club in Clemmons, N.C. Trevino found the putter in the attic of the home he was renting for the week. His final three rounds of 66-68-69 were good enough to once again hold off Jack Nicklaus. By the way, 62-year-old Sam Snead tied for third.
20. 2003: This year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., can only hope to produce a shot as memorable as Shaun Micheel’s exclamation point into the final green the last time the tournament visited the course. Micheel had a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell as Micheel lined up his approach shot out of the first cut of rough some 175 yards from the flag. Looking for his first PGA TOUR title, Micheel hit the shot of his life: a soaring 7-iron that landed a few feet below the hole and rolled to about six inches from the hole. It remains one of the great shots in golf history.
Tom Alter – Vice President, Communications – has worked at the PGA TOUR for more than 25 years in television production, programming, and now promotion. He started watching the PGA Championship after attending a clinic hosted by Met Section qualifier Jim Albus on the eve of his trip to the 1977 PGA at Pebble Beach.