A STYLISED, SELF-CONSCIOUS fusion of Scottish architecture and precious Southern gentility, Augusta National Golf Club was conceived of as a monument to the game’s history and, in time, became an integral part of it.
Television networks prefer to dwell on the oddity of its many and varied pretentions – among which can be counted the club’s stipulation that commentators refer to fans as “patrons” and security officers as “pinkertons” – but the success of Augusta as a venue has always lain in the understated genius of its layout.
It demands of the champion a dead-eyed aggression, remaining ever-sensitive to weakness, capable of punishing even the slightest hesitation. Birdies and eagles are plentiful, but disaster lurks around every corner.
When it comes to reviewing the moments that best define the Masters, then, it’s no surprise to find both sides of competitive coin – euphoria and deepest heartbreak – represented in nearly equal measure.
Hometown hero comes good
Augusta native Larry Mize rode a wave of local enthusiasm all the way to a sudden-death playoff with two giants of the game, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, in 1987.
Rather than play the supporting role for which he seemed destined, the unheralded PGA Tour veteran produced one of the finest shots in Masters history to claim his first (and final) major championship.
Faldo overhauls a six-shot lead
Greg Norman entered the final round of the 1996 tournament with a six-shot lead. Cowed by the robotic, overbearing the presence of long-time rival Nick Faldo, he retreated into a world of uncertainty and nervous desperation.
By the time the pair embraced on the final green, the Englishman had captured his sixth major title and Augusta National had issued a final, damning indictment of Greg Norman’s tenure at the summit of world golf.
Lyle plays the shot that defined a generation
No one had arrived at the 18th hole of Augusta National in search of a birdie to win the Masters and found it since Arnold Palmer in 1960, but Sandy Lyle was never one for deference, even in the face of History.
Arriving at the closing hole of 72nd hole of the 1988 Masters tied with Mark Calcavecchia, the Scot opted for a 1-iron off the tee, but found the base of a cavernous fairway bunker. With his major championship hopes resting on the outcome of a shot with little or no margin for error, Lyle raked a laser-guided 7-iron clear of the lip and to within 10 feet of the flagstick.
His green jacket was less a personal triumph than a validation of Europe’s emergence as a golfing powerhouse.
Scott Hoch chokes
Seven years before a certain Australian wilted in the presence of cold, calculating Nick Faldo, an abrasive North Carolinan by the name of Scott Hoch did likewise. Norman’s collapse, nearly five painful hours in the making, retained a certain dignity throughout – it was, after all, failure on a truly epic scale – but Hoch’s… it hinged on the grubby outcome of a single, jittery putting stroke.
Phil makes his major breakthrough
Now that he has a quartet of major victories to his name, it’s difficult to appreciate the weight of expectation under which Phil Mickelson laboured for first half of the last decade.
A preternaturally gifted player without a major title in nearly a decade of professional golf, his performance at the 2004 tournament wasn’t just an affirmation of the Californian’s major-winning pedigree, it was catharsis on the grandest scale.
The ruination of Seve Ballesteros
From an American perspective, the 1986 Masters is best remembered for the miraculous final-day resurgence of Jack Nicklaus.
In Europe, however, memories automatically turn to the man who dominated the event until its closing stages, Seve Ballesteros. Competing in the belief victory would bring comfort to his ailing father, the Spaniard looked certain to collect a third green jacket until finding water with his approach to the par-5 15th.
Always a fragile, slightly naive believer in Fate and Destiny, the trauma marked the commencement of his transition from free-wheeling genius to jaded veteran. He’d win again, but never with the quite same authority.
“In your life have you ever seen anything like that?”
Pear-shaped Chris DiMarco looked an unlikely challenger to Tiger Woods’ major hegemony in 2005, but reached the 16th hole of the final round locked in mortal combat with the 29-year-old. When Woods pulled his tee shot long and left, the ball settling against a collar of rough beyond the green, momentum looked to be swaying the New Yorker’s way.
Then this happened.