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Open and Shut-Up Cases

Thomas Bonk ranks the best and worst of the national championships

June 12, 2003|Thomas Bonk

2000, Pebble Beach

1 This one goes straight to the top on the basis of the utter brilliance of Tiger Woods. In one of the most dominating performances in the history of golf, Woods won by 15 shots -- a U.S. Open and major championship record -- and finished at 12 under par -- also a U.S. Open record. His total score of 272 tied Jack Nicklaus and Lee Janzen for the lowest at the Open. Woods opened with a 65, closed with a 67 and gave no one a chance. This one belongs on a pedestal.

*--* THE STARS OF THE SHOW

*--*

1960, Cherry Hills

2 The tournament that made Arnold Palmer the most recognized name in golf and vaulted the sport into the national spotlight. Palmer had already won his second Masters two months earlier, but this one was special. He drove the green on the first hole of the final round, came from seven shots down to pass third-round leader Mike Souchak, closed with a 65 and beat a 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus by two shots. It was a unique period in golf's timeline, an Open featuring Palmer, the current star; Ben Hogan, the aging star; and Nicklaus, the future star.

1980, Baltusrol

3 Nicklaus led, wire to wire, in one of the most competitive Opens. On his way to his fourth U.S. Open title, Nicklaus opened with a 63, yet found himself engaged in a fourth-round battle with little-known Isao Aoki, who had won 40 tournaments worldwide, but still hadn't gained much recognition in the U.S. ... until he caught Nicklaus with a 68 in the third round. Nicklaus shot a 68 in the last round and won by two shots -- thanks to a 22-foot birdie putt at the 17th and a 10-foot birdie putt at the 18th. His 272 total is the one Woods matched 20 years later. Coincidentally, Janzen's 272 total also came at Baltusrol, in 1993.

1913, The Country Club

4 This one is legendary, the one that put golf on the map in the U.S., so it's here for its historical impact. The tournament was won by a 20-year-old amateur, a caddie, named Francis Ouimet, whose father was a gardener. Ouimet lived across the street from the club and worked for a sporting goods store when he wasn't honing his golf game. His caddie was 10-year-old Eddie Lowery. It was quite a team, good enough to beat the top players in the world -- Harry Vardon and Ted Ray from England -- in a playoff. Also, this Open was the first for another of the game's greats, Walter Hagen, who tied for fourth, three shots out of the playoff.

1982, Pebble Beach

5 Tom Watson already had won three of his five British Open titles, but he hadn't fared so well at the U.S. Open. Many remembered his closing 79 in the 1974 Open, where he led by a shot to start the last day and wound up fifth, five shots behind Hale Irwin. Or his closing 77 in 1975, or missing the cut in 1979. Perceptions and history were changed forever on the 71st hole, the par-three 17th. With Nicklaus watching on television in the scorer's tent, Watson missed the green with a two-iron and the ball landed in the rough between two greenside bunkers. Watson coolly swung a sand wedge and knocked the ball in the hole. He finished with a birdie at the 18th and beat Nicklaus by two shots.

*--* THE CLUNKERS

*--*

1975, Medinah

1 If Lou Graham winning against John Mahaffey in a playoff is your vision of excitement, then this was a treat. The weather was bad, with oppressive heat, humidity and thunderstorms, and the golf wasn't great. Third-round leader Frank Beard shot 40 on the front nine to begin the last day and eventually fell into a tie with Bob Murphy, Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw, all of them one shot out of the playoff. Murphy closed with a bogey and Crenshaw knocked it in the water at the 17th. And Nicklaus bogeyed the last three holes -- when three pars would have won it.

1947, St. Louis Country Club

2 Sam Snead never won a U.S. Open and this might have been his best chance. One shot back of Lew Worsham to start the last day, Snead began with back-to-back bogeys, but he pulled himself together and caught Worsham with a birdie at the last hole, knocking in a clutch putt from 18 feet. On to the playoff. Tied with one hole to go, Snead missed a 30 1/2-inch putt and Worsham made his -- from 30 inches.

1955, Olympic Club

3 Another contribution to the unexpected loser file, this one belonging to Hogan, who lost in a playoff to little-known Jack Fleck, who had won a total of $7,500 in 41 tournaments in his career and hadn't broken 80 in his practice rounds at the Olympic Club. None of that mattered. Fleck shot a 67 on Sunday to tie Hogan, then beat him by three shots in a playoff, the signature moment when Hogan's foot slipped on his last drive. Hogan was only one shot down, but he hooked the ball into the rough and made a bogey. Fleck made par. If Hogan had won, it would have been his fifth U.S. Open title, and an incredible fourth in six years. It didn't happen.

1924, Oakland Hills

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