What makes for a memorable Sunday at the Masters?
There are some final rounds in Augusta that remain locked in the memory banks of golf fans years after the green jacket ceremony has concluded.
The stirring wins by Jack Nicklaus over some of the game’s greatest players in 1975 and ’86. Tiger Woods’ historic runaway in 1997. The one-sided Nick Faldo-Greg Norman battle the previous year. The emotional triumph by Ben Crenshaw the year before that.
The Larry Mize playoff chip-in on the 11th hole in ’87. The amazing Bubba Watson recovery shot from the trees on the 10th hole in the 2012 playoff. Phil Mickelson’s winning birdie on the 72nd hole for his first major title in 2004.
The ’75 Masters and its taut three-way duel between Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf set the stage for down-to-wire Sunday finishes on Augusta National’s made-for-TV-drama back nine. The Nicklaus comeback victory in ’86 is generally considered the greatest Masters ever, largely due to the incredible final-round performance by a seemingly over-the-hill Nicklaus, but also for the involvement of several of the game’s top players at the time who shared the starring role with Nicklaus on that unforgettable Sunday.
Some of the more exciting Masters finishes do not maintain equivalent status in the memories of golf fans because they involved lesser lights than those who were involved in the 1975 and ’86 Sunday fireworks.
Mike Weir, Angel Cabrera and Charl Schwartzel all won closely-contested Masters, with Weir and Cabrera taking somewhat anticlimactic playoffs and Schwartzel capping one of the wildest Masters Sundays ever with birdies on his final four holes.
Like many other thrilling final rounds in Augusta, those don’t quite measure up to some of those mentioned previously, in part because of the absence of Nicklaus, Watson or Woods in the final round mix, or the lack of a highlight reel shot to match those of Nicklaus, Mize or Mickelson.
Some memorable final rounds in the Masters have been relegated to mostly forgotten status because they lacked star power down the stretch. But one tournament stands apart from the rest despite the fact that it featured a birdie-filled Sunday provided by the three of the most compelling professional golfers at the time.
Everybody who witnessed Woods’ dominant performance in 1997 or his playoff victory in 2005 remember them, although the events that led up to the latter conclusion may not be as vivid. Hardly anyone really remembers Woods’ victory in 2002 and they shouldn’t, because it was one of the most forgettable final rounds ever in Augusta, with a star-studded cast of contenders allowing Woods to win almost uncontested.
It was the second straight Masters victory for Woods and the third of four he captured between 1997 and 2005. It featured his lowest final round score among the four and had the added bonus of including two of his most prominent rivals at the time – David Duval and Mickelson.
Woods won 14 majors in a span of just over a decade, most of them requiring little in the way of heroics late in the tournament. He won three times in playoffs, all against players of far lesser stature, and some in the golf media have cited the absence of triumphs over his main rivals in majors when his record is compared to that if Nicklaus.
For whatever reason, the 2001 Masters is rarely if ever mentioned among the more memorable ones in tournament history, but a look back at the that week and what transpired after it that year, makes you wonder why it is not higher up the list.
Woods had the lead after 54 holes at 12-under 204, but was being chased by a group of talented players, all of whom would leave their mark on major championship history. Mickelson was one shot behind Woods in second and the two were paired together on Sunday.
Former Masters champion Mark Calcavecchia was the next-to-last group off the tee Sunday and was two shots back along with playing partner Chris DiMarco, who contended in Augusta several times and nearly took down Woods in the final round in 2005. Duval was next at 207 along with multiple major champion Ernie Els, with future Masters champion Cabrera also three off the lead and in the same pairing with Rocco Mediate, who pushed Woods to the limit in their 2008 U.S. Open playoff.,
As it turned out, only Woods, Mickelson and Duval were factors that Masters Sunday, but the three put on a show to match the fireworks of the Nicklaus-Miller-Weiskopf shootout 26 year earlier, at least for 15 holes.
The best player of the three that Sunday was Duval, who made a spirited final round charge for the fourth year in a row at Augusta National.
In 1998, Duval carded seven birdies after an opening bogey and led with three holes to play, but bogeyed the 16th and wound up losing by a shot when Mark O’Meara birdied the 18th.
Duval began the final round in ’99 six behind Jose Maria Olazabal but pulled even after playing his first 10 holes in 4-under. But he hit his approach shot on the 11th into the greenside pond, made double bogey and wound up 5 shots back after a closing 70.
The next year, Duval was one shot off the lead standing in the 13th fairway after beginning the day three behind Vijay Singh. At that point, Duval was 4-under for the day, but hit his second into the creek at 13 and settled for a 70, ending up four off Singh’s winning score.
Duval again came out firing in the final round in 2001, running off birdies on seven of his first 10 holes to pull even with Woods. Duval had just one par through the first 10 holes, taking bogeys at 1 and 4 and parring the ninth. He was 5-under for the day at that point and that’s the way he finished.
A three-putt par at 13 prevented Duval from taking the outright lead. He birdied the 15th to stay even with Woods, nearly chipping in for eagle. But just as he had done in ’98, Duval put himself in a bad spot after his tee shot on the 16th, and he missed an 8-footer for par following a deft chip.
The miss was one of five for Duval over his final six holes, as he kept giving himself opportunities with some superb ball-striking, but was unable to capitalize with his putter. He wound up with a 67, two behind Woods, who birdied the 72nd hole to expand his final margin over Duval and Mickelson.
Mickelson followed his typical pattern at the time of erratic play, carding birdies on four of the first eight holes, but also taking a pair of bogeys on the two par 3s on the front nine. Birdies at 5, 7 and 8 kept him close to Woods, who matched Mickelson’s birdies at 7 and 8.
Woods never gave up his lead, scrambling for pars at 9 and 10 to keep Duval from taking the outright lead and regaining first alone when he almost holed his approach shot on the difficult 11th. After a cautious bogey at the 12th, Woods again grabbed the outright lead with a 2-putt birdie at 13, but missed a short birdie try at the 15h that would have put him one in front of Duval and two ahead of Mickelson, who birdied 13 and 15 after a costly bogey at the 11th resulted in a two-shot swing and put him three behind Woods.
But like Duval before him, Mickelson could not handle the tee shot at the 16th, and missed the ridge by a foot or two, leaving himself with a putt that is all but impossible to stop close to the hole. He missed his fourth makeable par putt on the day, and missed again for birdie at 17, sending him to the 18th tee two off the lead.
Mickelson, who scored a then-record 25 birdies for the week, had one last birdie putt at the 18th to tie Duval for second, but missed after Woods made a longer birdie putt to put an exclamation point on his victory. Had Mickelson made the putt, he would have been the first player to ever shoot in the 60s all rounds at the Masters.
Duval and Woods made 23 birdies on the week, but it wasn’t birdies that decided the outcome. Not bogeys either. Mickelson made two double bogeys on the week and Duval one. Woods made none and that was the margin of difference.
After the middle of his final round, when he notched three birdies and two clutch par saves in a 5-hole stretch from 7 to 11, Woods did nothing special until holing a mostly meaningless birdie on the 18th.
Other than his three playoff victories, Woods was never really required to produce any late heroics to win his other 11 major titles, unlike Mickelson who needed back nine or 72nd hole theatrics to win four of his five majors.
The 2001 Masters represented Mickelson’s first realistic chance to win in Augusta, and he had many more opportunities after that, taking home three green jackets. He had an even better shot to capture his first major title later that year, but lost by a shot in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic to David Tom despite posting the second lowest 72-hole total in major championship history.
As for Duval, he recovered from his latest Masters disappointment to win the British Open four months later. It would be his only major title and the last of his 13 PGA Tour victories, all of which came in a 5-year span. His British Open triumph effectively ended Duval’s time as an elite player, and he never contended in the Masters again.
Woods, Mickelson, and Duval produced 19 birdies between the on Masters Sunday 2001 and were a combined 11-under for the day, numbers comparable to those put up by Nicklaus, Miller, and Weiskopf 26 years earlier.
But there was no single highlight to match the across-the-green birdie putt by Nicklaus at 16, with a pair of sad bogeys by Duval and Mickelson at the hole the defining moments of a final round that could have been one of the great ones ever.
Most, however, do remember one aspect of the 2001 Masters. Woods’ victory gave him a non-calendar year Grand Slam after he won the last three majors in 2000, with his ’01 victory giving him what has been known since as the “Tiger Slam.”