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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 20 April, 2014

So near, yet so far: the seven most heartbreaking major cameos

Jason Dufner isn’t the first major challenger to burst from obscurity only to fall at the final hurdle; major championship history is littered with bolt-from-the-blue contenders who stopped just short of fulfilling their life’s ambition.

Jason Dufner: nearly.
Jason Dufner: nearly.
Image: Charlie Krupa/AP/Press Association Images

WHEN JASON DUFNER stood on the fifteenth tee during the final round of this year’s USPGA Championship, he held a five-shot lead over the rest of the field.

Sky’s commentary team were beginning to transition into that reluctantly gracious tone that defines coverage of sporting events that have unexpectedly lost their competitive edge.

More strokes ahead than there were holes left to play, he looked to be cruising to the Wanamaker.  Eleven years on the PGA Tour had failed to yield a single victory, and now, apropos of nothing, the eerily calm Ohioan was on the verge of major glory. A slightly incongruous collision of child-like features and ice-cold nerves, we were learning to love golf’s latest one-hit wonder.

Then his tee shot found the water.

So began a run of three straight bogeys that, in tandem with Keegan Bradley’s heroics in the group ahead, sent the 34-year-old tumbling down the leaderboard and into a play-off. And we all know how that turned out.

The majors have played host to their fair share of one-hit wonders– the Paul Lawries and Shaun Micheels of the world– but don’t shed a tear on their behalf; their careers will forever be associated with a moment of euphoria. Spare a thought for golf’s greatest near-misses instead, the guys who came from nowhere, had the week of their life and still fell agonisingly, heart-rendingly short.

Jean van de velde (1999 Open Championship)

A peripheral figure on the European Tour, van de Velde squandered a three-shot lead on the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship to ensure his name became synonymous with inexplicable sporting catastrophe.



T.C. Chen (1985 US Open)

Taiwan’s TC Chen set a series of scoring records at the 1985 US Open and looked to be closing in on certain victory during the final round when he did something nearly completely unprecedented: he double-hit a chip.

Visibly unsettled, he ended up carding a momentum-sapping quadruple bogey and lost to Andy North by a shot.



Len Mattiace (2003 US Masters)

Prior to shooting 65 in the final round of the 2003 Masters (and collapsing in the resulting play-off with Canada’s Mike Weir), Len Mattiace was most famous for taking a quintuple bogey 8 at the 71st hole of the 1998 Players’ Championship.

His unique record makes him the only player on our list to have  burst from from obscurity twice.

Brian Watts (1998 Open Championship)

An unassuming refugee from the Asian Tour, Watts took an improbable tilt at the 1998 Open Championship at Birkdale. After hitting one of the best bunker shots in major history at the 72nd hole, he fell to Mark O’Meara in a play-off.

He hasn’t been seen since.

Bob May (2000 PGA Championship)

Until YE Yang clobbered Tiger Woods in the 2009 USPGA Championship, it was a source of some embarrassment to the PGA Tour that the most convincing challenge to Woods’ final round hegemony at the majors had come courtesy of Bob May, a little-known journeyman with an ungainly swing. After trading blows with the greatest golfer of all-time, May promptly receded from public view.



Mike Donald (1990 US Open)

Mike Donald was a journeyman pro fast approaching 40 when he took the mighty Hale Irwin all the way to a play-off at the 1990 US Open. Unlike the similarly heroic figures of Bob May or Len Mattiace, Donald’s memory has been purged from golfing history.

No pictures, no videos: Donald’s 1990 US Open proved the ultimate all-or-nothing duel with History.

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