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The Masters: Most memorable Sundays

Original article published 17 October 2022

There’s nothing quite like Masters Sunday.

As the sun sets on that spring evening in early April, we see the leaders on the other side of the pond start their final round.

And while you never know what’s about to happen, you do know you’re about to watch sporting history. In about four hours’ time, someone will have the Green Jacket draped around their shoulders, and become a part of golfing immortality.

Here, we look back at three of the most memorable Sundays in Masters history.

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1986

By 1986, Jack Nicklaus was approaching six years without a major win, and it had been 11 years since he’d last conquered Augusta. Even in his 40s, he was still competitive in Georgia with top-20 finishes in four of the last five years. But six off the pace at the end of Thursday and Friday, a sixth Green Jacket looked out of reach.

Heading into Sunday, the Golden Bear was only four back, but was looking up at the likes of Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and leader Greg Norman.

Such was the strength of those above him, and his own inability to make an early move, Nicklaus barely got a look-in through his eight holes. He was level par for the day, but heard the crowd react to Kite and Ballesteros both making eagle on 8. With a birdie putt on the hole ahead, he turned to the adoring patrons and said: "Why don't we see if we can make a little noise up here ourselves?"

It was the start of the greatest charge in Masters history.

Norman, Ballesteros, Kite and others will have been eyeing the leaderboard, wondering who would stand in the way of them donning the Green Jacket. Nicklaus won’t have been in their thoughts.

But a long birdie putt on the 10th brought a huge roar from the crowd. Three back.

Another long putt on the notoriously difficult 11th made it three birdies in a row. Two back.

Suddenly in contention, Nicklaus stared down the 12th. A tugged tee shot brought about a bogey and a frustrated stomp, suggesting that even he thought his slim chance might have gone.

Not quite, Jack.

Norman fell away and Ballesteros couldn’t pull away – until his eagle on 13. Nicklaus was now four back with four to play, and the rest, as they say, is history.

An eagle of his own on15 put him two behind the Spaniard, the best player in the world at the time, and, as Ben Wright called on commentary, there was ‘life in the old bear yet’. You could only imagine the noise levels at Augusta had Nicklaus aced the 16th, which he very nearly did. Instead he had to settle for a three-foot birdie putt.

Out of nowhere, the Golden Bear was atop the leaderboard at -8, when Ballesteros pulled his approach on 15 into the water and made bogey. Kite joined the pair to make a three-way tie. Suddenly, almost in the blink of an eye, Nicklaus was leading on Sunday at the Masters.

Nicklaus’s 15-foot putt, trickling down the 17th green, perfectly accompanied by Verne Lundquist’s immortal “Yes sir!”

The 46-year-old was outright leader, and par on the last was enough. He’d seen off the world’s greatest golfers, playing his final 10 holes seven-under-par, to win a record-extending sixth Masters title.

2016

Without saying your age, tell us how old you are by saying who comes to mind when you hear ‘Masters collapse’.

Those under 35 will likely say Jordan Spieth.

Stood on the 10th tee on the back of four straight birdies with a five-shot lead. He was one of just four players under-par at that point, and it was beginning to seem like he was going to win this tournament every year for the rest of his life: he’d contended and fallen just short as a rookie two years prior. The following year, he blitzed the field and tied Tiger Woods’ record score. He was now set to win again. Nick Faldo was the only golfer in Masters history to retain their Masters crown after winning for a first time.

It’s easy to forget that at the start of the day, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson were all in pursuit, with rookie Smylie Kaufmann and veteran Bernard Langer also up there. Even Danny Willett was only three back. But come the turn, the only person who could beat Spieth was himself. And that’s exactly what happened.

The four straight birdies were followed by bogey at 10 and 11 – two tough holes admittedly – before a tee shot in the water on 12 meant his lead had unravelled.

It’s easy to suggest people have ‘choked’ or ‘bottled it’ when losing a big lead, but it’s hard to escape that conclusion when you look at Spieth’s drop at 12. A chunked wedge straight back into the water. A quadruple bogey 7. Disaster.

In the space of an hour, Danny Willett had gone from five behind Spieth, to four ahead. Credit to Spieth, he actually recovered quite well and finished T2, but the damage was done at Amen Corner, and England had its second Masters champion.

It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for the possessor of a Green Jacket when he’s having to put it on someone else – as is tradition – but for Spieth, the defeated 22-year-old, you have to make an exception.

Special mention to Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen, for making the day that bit more memorable. Perennial nearly-man Westwood, who’d contended so many times but always fell short, suddenly found himself in the mix on the back of Spieth’s collapse with an eagle on 15. He was one behind new leader Willett. Sadly, that lasted around 10 minutes, with him immediately following up with bogey as Willett birdied 16.

Meanwhile the South African recorded one of the all-time great holes-in-one. His tee shot on 16 was perfectly placed to trickle down the hill towards the hole. Unfortunately, playing partner JB Holmes’s ball was in front of the hole, and Oosthuizen’s collided with his. Like something from a film, Oosthuizen’s ball was hoisted back towards the hole as if on a string, for the third ace of the day.

All in all, an unforgettable Sunday at Augusta.

1996

Before Spieth, there was Norman. Undoubtedly one of the golfers of his generation, it’s hard to think of many players who had so many chances to win majors, yet won so few. Despite twice lifting the Claret Jug, the Green Jacket would elude him throughout his career. He missed a par putt for a play-off in 1986. He lost in a play-off in 1987. He missed another par putt for a play-off in 1989. But his most famous defeat came in 1996.

Such was the enormity of the collapse, it’s arguably the most memorable round of his career, sadly trumping both Open wins.

Going into Sunday with a six-shot lead, Norman would never get a better chance, and at 41, it was now or never.

But standing in his way, his playing partner for Sunday, was old adversary, Nick Faldo.

After eight holes, the six-shot lead had been cut to three. A bogey at 9 cut the lead further.

They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. How true that’s rung for so many. Schwartzel and Nicklaus’s runs, Spieth and McIlroy’s collapses, and of course, Norman.

Like Spieth would do 20 years later, he bogeyed 10 and 11 and the pair were tied at the top coming to the devilish 12th.

“He’s not gonna win it here… but he can lose it here” was the foreshadowing line of commentary. And lose it he did.

Amen Corner had claimed another victim.

Two shots back on the 15th with Faldo off the green, Norman’s eagle chip – to tie the lead – ran millimetres by the hole, prompting the iconic image of the crestfallen Shark on his knees. It would be Norman’s final charge, as he found water on the 16th. Faldo, starting the day six back, would go on to win by five, claiming his third Green Jacket.

By @LiamWilliamsSJ

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