Extraordinary stories and lore practically define the Masters. Any listing of the top 10 moments might well include tales of Jones, Sarazen, Hogan, and Palmer—or perhaps the Watsons (Tom and Bubba), Faldo and Norman, Player and Mickelson. To narrow it to a top five, however, we employed a single criterion: To what extent did the memorable moment not only thrill us, but also move us emotionally? Here, then, are the five greatest Masters moments.
5. Ben Crenshaw wins his second green jacket days after the funeral of his mentor, Harvey Penick (1995)
Fourteen clubs is the legal limit at most tournaments, but not at the 1995 Masters. “I had a 15th club in the bag this week,” said champion Ben Crenshaw. “It was Harvey Penick.” Humble teaching legend Penick had first put a club in Ben’s hands 36 years before, then later put his wisdom in everyone’s hands when he published The Little Red Book.
On the Sunday before the 1995 Masters, the 90-year-old Penick passed away, devastating the golf world, and especially Crenshaw. On Wednesday, Ben flew to Texas to serve as a pallbearer. Somehow, he returned to Augusta preternaturally calm and focused. Emerging from a slump, he took his caddie Carl Jackson’s advice and moved the ball back in his stance. He suddenly found his form.
Sharing a one-shot lead entering the final round, Ben got a supernaturally fortunate bounce off a tree after a pulled drive at 14, then pulled away with birdies at 16 and 17. When he tapped in for bogey at 18—and a one-stroke win over David Love III—the dam burst. His putter clanged to the ground, followed by his cap. He bent over, put his face in his hands and wept. “That one week was my best chance to honor Harvey,” said Sentimental Ben. “I couldn’t have done anything nicer for that great man.”
4. Hometown hero Larry Mize chips in to win (1987)
He was the proverbial fifth wheel, the odd man out in the “two’s company, three’s a crowd” game. But the message never got to Larry Mize. An Augusta native and one-time winner on tour, Mize found himself in a sudden-death playoff in 1987 with two giants, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Seve exited early by three-putting the first extra hole and it looked like Mize would be next to go. At the daunting par-four 11th, Mize fanned his approach well to the right of the green, leaving him with a treacherous 140-foot, downhill shot toward a pond. Norman’s second shot found the fringe.
“I’ll just hit a good chip shot,” Mize said to himself, “and put the pressure back on him.” He hit it good, alright. His sand wedge chip bounced a couple of times before reaching the green, then rolled—and rolled—right into the cup. Mize leaped skyward, braying in ecstasy. “I almost went into orbit,” said Mize. There would be no heavenly moment for the Shark, who missed his 50-foot birdie putt to tie the hometown hero.
3. Tiger’s Unbelievably Epic Comeback (2019)
On April 14, 2019, Tiger Woods captured his fifth Masters title in dramatic fashion, completing the greatest comeback in the history of golf. It was shocking and comforting all at once. For a generation of fans who had never seen him win a major, the 2019 Masters—his 15th major championship—was perhaps his sweetest triumph.
Only 24 months prior, Woods had entertained the possibility that he might never play golf again, due to debilitating physical issues from four back surgeries and procedures. Yet, there he was, two shots back at the 12th hole on Sunday.
He watched the one player he trailed, Francesco Molinari, make a crucial mistake, splashing his tee shot on one of earth’s most iconic par threes. Tiger then stepped up and hit the smartest shot possible onto the green. After a difficult two-putt, he was now tied for the lead.
Two perfect drives and ideal irons brought him two-putt birdies at 13 and 15. Then came the goose-bump moment, an 8-iron at the 179-yard, par-three 16th. He placed his shot perfectly, 25 feet to the right of the pin, and watched the ball slowly roll off the slope toward the hole. It missed the cup by two inches and finished three feet away, eerily reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus’s shot at the same hole in the 1986 Masters. He was almost home.
One contender after another fell away. When Brooks Koepka pulled his 10-foot birdie putt at the final hole, the perception dawned for all to experience: Even a bogey would give Tiger his fifth green jacket. When he tapped in at the 72nd hole, he pumped his fist, thrust both arms skyward—and then he roared. It was one more unexpectedly defining moment for the greatest golfer of his era.
2. Tiger Woods wins the Masters by 12 shots to become the tournament’s youngest champion (1997)
At the 1996 Masters, no less than Jack Nicklaus predicted that Tiger Woods would win more Masters titles than he and Arnold Palmer combined (10). One year later, the 21-year-old Tiger took the first gigantic leap toward fulfilling the Nicklaus prophecy.
Shaking off an opening nine 40, Woods’s 70–66 staked him to a three-shot lead after 36 holes. Second-place Colin Montgomerie questioned Woods’s experience and Tiger responded with a third-round 65, bludgeoning Monty, the field, and Augusta National into submission. He stretched his lead to nine, concluding his round emphatically with driver, wedge to one foot on the uphill, 405-yard, par-four 18th. “He’s taking this course apart,” said an astonished Nicklaus, speaking for everyone, awestruck at the 186-yard 9-iron Woods hit into the par-five 2nd, and the pitching wedge Woods used for his second shot at the 500-yard par-five 15th.
In three-putting not a single green for 72 holes, Woods displayed touch to match his power. His final-round 69 made him the youngest Masters champion and set new records for low total (18-under-par 270) and margin of victory (12). More importantly to some, he became the first minority golfer to win a major. Walking up the 18th, Tiger offered a prayer of thanks to trailblazing pioneers Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and Teddy Rhodes. After knocking in his 4-foot par putt for the record at 18, Tiger wept as he embraced his mentor—his father Earl. Tiger Woods had sledgehammered every Masters barrier.
1. At 46, Jack Nicklaus rallies to win his sixth Masters (1986)
Never in the history of the Masters did the ground shake, cheers reverberate, and emotions explode as they did for Jack Nicklaus in 1986. Bristling at a newspaper column that implied he was “washed up,” the 46-year-old Golden Bear produced respectable rounds of 74–71–69 to put him four behind Greg Norman, but little on Sunday’s front nine suggested a miracle was in store.
Then, with eldest son Jackie along for the ride as caddie, the Bear flipped the time machine switch and hopped in. Birdies at 10, 11, and 13 were sandwiched around a bogey at 12. He made eagle at the par-five 15th, after a towering 4-iron to 12 feet. A near-ace on 16, followed by a shocking Seve Ballesteros watery bogey at 15 drew Nicklaus from six down with 10 to play into a tie at 8-under. It also produced screams from a disbelieving gallery.
“The noise was deafening,” said Nicklaus. “I kept getting tears in my eyes,” he said at the 17th hole. “I had to say to myself, ‘Hey, you’ve got some golf left to play.’” Nicklaus coaxed one final birdie at 17 on a tricky 12-foot putt. His left arm thrust his putter skyward, as television viewers were treated to Verne Lundquist’s call of, “Maybe… Yes, Sirrrrr!” Jack’s final task was to manage a challenging two-putt up the hill from 40 feet on the 18th. He did, giving him a course-record-tying back-nine 30 for a round of 65, as the roars crescendoed. Norman, Ballesteros, and Tom Kite took final shots at him, but this performance was bulletproof. Nicklaus had captured his sixth green jacket in a too-hokey-for-Hollywood script.