The Top 9 Chokes and Bridesmaid Moments in U.S. Open History
Anyone who watched the final round of the St. Jude Classic this past weekend witnessed perhaps the worst final-hole collapse in professional golf since Jean Van de Velde blew the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999. When he stepped up to the final tee on Sunday, Robert Garribus held a three-stroke lead over playing partner Robert Karlsson, as well as Lee Westwood, who was already in the clubhouse. But Garribus hit his drive into the water, shanked his third shot post-drop into the woods, was forced to chip out back to the fairway, and ultimately settled for a triple-bogey 7, prompting a three-way playoff. Then, in the first sudden-death hole, his drive sailed through the fairway and landed directly behind a tree, sealing his fate. (Westwood ended up taking the title on the fourth playoff hole.)
Garribus’s collapse, and the upcoming U.S. Open at the always-treacherous Pebble Beach, got us thinking back to the likes of Mickleson, Goosen, Montgomerie, and even Arnie and Tiger — all of whom had the U.S. Open in their grasps, but ultimately let the major slip away. We did some research and rounded up a back nine of the biggest collapses and bridesmaid moments in U.S. Open history. We present them here in chronological order:
Sam Snead (1939)
Slammin’ Sammy came to the final hole of the 1939 U.S. Open needing to hit par to secure his victory. His drive ended up deep in the rough and, unable to recover from his poor shot, finished the hole with a triple-bogey 8. What should have been victory ended up as a tie for fifth place.
Sam Snead (1949)
In the final hole of the full-round playoffs, Snead and Lew Worhsman met at the 18th hole tied, facing similar close-range putts for a birdie. As Snead was about to putt, Worsham called for a measurement to make sure Snead was actually away. Whether it was a shady move or a legitimate request is still debated. Snead was away after all but when he returned for his two-and-a-half-foot putt, he missed. Worsham nailed his putt for the victory. Snead won seven majors overall, but never the U.S. Open, finishing second four times.
Arnold Palmer (1966)
Palmer went into the back nine of the fourth round of the 1966 U.S. Open seven strokes up. But he hit a cold streak at the turn, and Billy Casper a hot one, completely erasing Arnie’s lead and forcing a playoff. Palmer again jumped out to lead on Monday, but bogeyed 11, 14, and 15, and double-bogeyed 16, ultimately losing by four strokes. Ironically, six years earlier, Palmer came back from a 7-stroke deficit to win at Cherry Hills.
Tom Lehman (1995-1997)
During the mid-’90s, Tom Lehman held the 54-hole lead going into the final round of three straight U.S. Opens. After the 72nd hole of each tournament, however, he’d lost to Corey Pavin by 3 strokes (1995), Steve Jones by a stroke (1996), and Ernie Ells by two strokes (1997).
Stewart Cink (2001)
Cink broke a major golfing rule in 2001: Never take any shot for granted and never count yourself out of any tournament. Hurrying on a two-footer for bogey — and what he figured would be a second-place finish — Cink botched the putt. It came back to haunt him moments later when his final group partner, Retief Goosen, missed a short-range putt of his own, falling back into a tie with Mark Brooks, but not Cink, who missed out on the Monday playoff that Goosen ultimately won.
Retief Goosen (2005)
Chasing his third U.S. Open victory (and second in a row) Goosen turned a 3-stroke lead after three rounds into an 11th-place finish, shooting an 81 in the final round. “I obviously threw this away,” Goosen said after the tournament.
Phil Mickelson (2006)
Lefty headed to the final three holes of the 2006 U.S. Open with a two-shot lead, looking poised for victory and some redemption after losing a lead and the 1999 tournament at Pinehurst to Payne Stewart. A win would have placed Mickelson next to Tiger Woods as the only players in the past 50 years to win at least three majors in succession, but a few bad shots got in the way. A bogey on the 16th and a double bogey on the 18th — including a drive that sliced into a hospitality tent and a second shot that hit a tree — handed the championship to Geoff Ogilvy, in what was clearly the biggest meltdown of Mickelson’s career.
Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk (2006)
Mickelson wasn’t the only one to blow the 2006 U.S. Open. Montgomerie nailed a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and headed to the 18th tied for first. On his approach shot, a last-minute decision to change clubs (from a 6-iron to a 7-iron) left him short of the green and in the rough. His next shot rolled deep into the green, and Montgomerie finished with a double-bogey 6, tied for 2nd place. Furky, meanwhile, missed a five-footer on the 18th, finishing with Mickelson and Monty at a 6-over 286.
Tiger Woods (2006)
Lest we forget Tiger, the 2006 Open was also a tough year for the Striped One, as he planned to dedicate his victory to his late father, who had passed away a month earlier. But Tiger shot 12-over over the first two rounds, including three double bogies, en route to a score of 152 and his first missed cut at a major in his career.
[SI cover via]