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Was This Shot the Best Ever?

It surely ranks among the top 10—a couple of top 10s, in fact—but all-time best? That’s a matter of how you define greatness.

By: Tom Ierubino

Appeared in Spring 2013 LINKS

When Bubba Watson rope-hooked his gap wedge second shot out of the trees and onto the 10th green at Augusta National last year en route to a Masters playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen, the jaw-dropping shot was the talk of the sports world. That got us at LINKS Magazine thinking: Where does Bubba’s shot rank among the all-time greatest in Masters history?

And not to be forgotten, what about Oosthuizen’s own stroke of genius, the double eagle he scored at the second hole on that same exciting Sunday?

Some of the greatest and most memorable shots in Augusta history came quickly to mind: Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the 15th hole in 1935; Doug Ford’s holed bunker shot from a buried lie on 18 in 1957; Jack Nicklaus’s near ace on 16 in 1986; Larry Mize’s pitch-in birdie on 11 in 1987; Sandy Lyle’s second shot from a fairway bunker on 18 in 1988; Tiger Woods’s chip-in birdie at 16 in 2005; and Phil Mickelson’s second shot off the pine straw, out of the trees, and onto the 13th green in 2010.

We decided to look at a combination of factors in assessing what makes a great shot, limiting our consideration to strokes  played during the final round or in a playoff.

First, there is the difficulty and impressiveness of the shot. In this category, it’s hard to top the double eagles made by Sarazen and Oosthuizen. Sarazen’s came via a 230-yard 4-wood shot that carried the pond and erased a three-stroke deficit; he defeated Craig Wood in a playoff the next day. From 253 yards out, Oosthuizen hit a 4-iron, his ball catching the front of the green and rolling the last 90 feet into the hole. This helped him shoot 69 to reach the playoff with Watson, who shot 68.

The second factor is the aspect of do-or-die boldness, the derring-do nature of the shot. Bubba’s wedge, which came to rest 10 feet from the hole to set up his winning two-putt par, was the second memorable one out of the trees in recent years. While Mickelson’s shot two years earlier didn’t come on the concluding hole, his threading of a 6-iron between two trees, over the tributary to Rae’s Creek, and onto the green had the gallery holding its collective breath. The shot seemed especially bold considering there were five more holes to play and Mickelson wasn’t forced to play it.

Finally, we looked at how late in the tournament the shot occurred and thus how pivotally decisive it was. No shot that wasn’t a putt was more pivotal to the outcome of a Masters than Mize’s pitch-in, which gave him a playoff victory over a stunned Greg Norman. While not quite as climactic, one year later Sandy Lyle created his own excitement on the final hole when his 7-iron second from the sand set up his winning 10-foot birdie putt. Arnold Palmer in 1960 struck his second on 18 even closer, hitting a 6-iron from the fairway to five feet to win the second of his four titles.

With all this in mind, we compiled the Top 10 shots for each of these three categories, with some shots appearing on more than one list. We then took the best of the best from these three lists to create our final Top 10. There have been many memorable putts in Masters history as well, including birdies made by Nicklaus on 16 in 1975, Ben Crenshaw on 10 in 1984, and Mickelson on 18 in 2004. We considered putts separately and did not include them as part of our final Top 10. As with the other lists, we only considered putts made during the final round or in a playoff.

After all these years, and many great moments at Augusta National, we’ve concluded that, 78 years later, Gene Sarazen’s 4-wood remains the greatest shot in Masters history. We were tempted to give Mize’s hole-out the nod and can understand anyone who would vote that way. But he’s our runner-up. As for Bubba, we ranked his superhook firmly in third.

Take a look at our lists and tell us what you think. Let the discussion begin.

Difficulty

1. Gene Sarazen, 1935, 15th hole, holed 4-wood shot from 230 yards for double eagle to tie lead

2. Louis Oosthuizen, 2012, 2nd hole, holed 4-iron from 253 yards for double eagle

3. Ralph Guldahl, 1939, 13th hole, 3-wood second shot from 230 yards to six inches for eagle to take lead

4. Jack Nicklaus, 1975, 15th hole, 1-iron second shot from 246 yards to 10 feet to set up two-putt birdie to tie lead

5. Bubba Watson, 2012, 10th hole (second playoff hole), gap wedge second shot out of the trees to 10 feet to set up winning two-putt par

6. Larry Mize, 1987, 11th hole (second playoff hole), holed 100-foot sand wedge pitch shot for birdie to win

7. Sandy Lyle, 1988, 18th hole, 7-iron second shot from fairway bunker to 10 feet to set up winning birdie putt

8. Seve Ballesteros, 1983, 4th hole, 2-iron teeshot to two feet for birdie to cap a stretch of birdie-eagle-par-birdie to go from one behind to three ahead

9. Doug Ford, 1957, 18th hole, holed bunker shot from buried lie for birdie to win by three

10. Tiger Woods, 2005 16th hole, holed wedge chip shot for birdie to lead by two

Derring-do

1. Gene Sarazen, 1935, 15th hole, holed 4-wood shot from 230 yards for double eagle to tie lead

2. Phil Mickelson, 2010, 13th hole, 6-iron second shot from trees to four feet to set up two-putt birdie

3. Bubba Watson, 2012, 10th hole (second playoff hole), gap wedge second shot out of the trees to 10 feet to set up winning two-putt par

4. Ralph Guldahl, 1939, 13th hole, 3-wood second shot from 230 yards to six inches for eagle to take lead

5. Jack Nicklaus, 1975, 15th hole, 1-iron second shot from 246 yards to 10 feet to set up two-putt birdie to tie lead

6. Arnold Palmer, 1958, 13th hole, second shot with 3-wood to 18 feet to set up eagle

7. Nick Faldo, 1990, 15th hole, 2-iron second shot from 234 yards over trees to set up chip-and-putt birdie to cut Raymond Floyd’s lead to two

8. Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 15th hole, 4-iron second shot from 202 yards to 12 feet for eagle

9. Sandy Lyle, 1988, 18th hole, 7-iron second shot from fairway bunker to 10 feet to set up winning birdie putt

10. Larry Mize, 1987, 11th hole (second playoff hole), holed 100-foot sand wedge pitch shot for birdie to win

Decisiveness

1. Larry Mize, 1987, 11th hole (second playoff hole), holed 100-foot sand wedge pitch shot for birdie to win

2. Arnold Palmer, 1960, 18th hole, 6-iron second shot to five feet to set up winning birdie putt

3. Sandy Lyle, 1988, 18th hole, 7-iron second shot from fairway bunker to 10 feet to set up winning birdie

4. Bubba Watson, 2012, 10th hole (second playoff hole), gap wedge second shot out of the trees to 10 feet to set up winning two-putt par

5. Tiger Woods, 2005, 16th hole, holed wedge chip shot for birdie to lead by two

6. Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 16th hole, 5-iron from 179 yards to three feet for birdie to cut Seve Ballesteros’s lead to one

7. Gene Sarazen, 1935, 15th hole, 4-wood second shot holed from 230 yards for double eagle to tie lead

8. Jack Nicklaus, 1975, 15th hole, 1-iron second shot from 246 yards to 10 feet to set up two-putt birdie to tie lead

9. Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 15th hole, 4-iron second shot from 202 yards to 12 feet for eagle

10. Byron Nelson, 1937, 13th hole, chip-in for eagle after birdie on 12 to go from four behind Ralph Guldahl to two ahead in just two holes en route to a two-stroke victory

Putts

1. Phil Mickelson, 2004, 18th hole, 18-foot birdie  to win

2. Nick Faldo, 1989, 11th hole (second playoff hole), 25-foot birdie to win

3. Mark O’Meara, 1998, 18th hole, 20-foot birdie to win

4. Tiger Woods, 2005, 18th hole (playoff), 18-foot birdie to win

5. Sandy Lyle, 1988, 18th hole, 10-foot birdie to win

6. Gary Player, 1978, 18th hole, 15-foot birdie to shoot 64 and win

7. Jack Nicklaus, 1975, 16th hole, 40-foot birdie to tie lead

8. Arnold Palmer, 1960, 17th hole, 30-foot birdie to tie lead

9.Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 17th hole, 10-foot birdie to take lead

10. Ben Crenshaw, 1984, 10th hole, 60-foot birdie

Final Top 10

1.Gene Sarazen, 1935, 15th hole, holed 4-wood shot from 230 yards for double eagle to tie lead

2. Larry Mize, 1987, 11th hole, holed 100-foot sand wedge pitch shot for birdie to win playoff

3. Bubba Watson, 2012, 10th hole (second playoff hole), gap wedge second shot out of the trees to 10 feet to set up  winning two-putt par

4. Sandy Lyle, 1988, 18th hole, 7-iron second shot from fairway bunker to 10 feet to set up winning birdie

5. Jack Nicklaus, 1975, 15th hole, 1-iron second shot from 246 yards to 10 feet to set up two-putt birdie to tie lead

6. Ralph Guldahl, 1939, 13th hole, 3-wood second shot from 230 yards to six inches for eagle to take lead

7. Tiger Woods, 2005, 16th, holed wedge chip shot for birdie to lead by two

8. Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 16th hole, 5-iron from 179 to three feet for birdie to cut Seve Ballesteros’s lead to one

9. Jack Nicklaus, 1986, 15th hole, 4-iron second shot from 202 yards to 12 feet for eagle

10. Louis Oosthuizen, 2012, 2nd hole, 4-iron second shot from 253 yards holed for double eagle.

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