Greg Norman and the 10 Most Notorious Chokers in Golf History

Michael DixonAnalyst IIIJune 7, 2011

Greg Norman and the 10 Most Notorious Chokers in Golf History

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    Choking in some form is a huge part of golf. Actually, it's a huge part of any sport, but for now, let's stick to golf.

    With very few exceptions, any tournament will be won with someone failing to do something that they should have done. That is generally coupled with the winner doing something not expected of him.

    Sure, those are chokes, but they don't stand out.

    What we're looking for are people whose name has become nearly synonymous with choking.

    In some cases, that may come in the form of one bad round, one bad hole or one bad shot. In other cases, it's a career of choking that gets remembered.

    One thing to note is that with some partial exceptions, the stories of these careers have largely been written.

    At some point we may look back at the recent major failures of Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, but they are just too early in their careers for that type of label.

    Also, golfers like Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and other greats have had some monumental chokes. But in the case of all of those golfers, their failures are far from the first things that we think about from their careers.

    Actually, only one golfer on this list has had anywhere near the kind of career that those legends enjoyed, and that gives us a great starting place.

10. Phil Mickelson

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    Before the 2010 Masters, Mickelson would have been much higher on this list. If he wins another major or two, he won't be on it at all by the time his career is done.

    The choke in the 2006 US Open was unforgettable. Sure, he has had other disappointments, like three putting on the 71st hole of the 2004 US Open, but the disaster at Winged Foot in 2006 was painful.

    Since the mid-'90s, Mickelson has been one of the best players in the world. Still, he didn't win a major until 2004. Some of those failures came from his own poor play. Other disappointments came from the strong performances of his rivals, like Payne Stewart, Tiger Woods and David Toms.

    Mickelson won plenty after losing the US Open in 2006. He even won big tournaments, notably the Players Championship in 2007. But he didn't win a major until the Masters in 2010.

    If he wins another major, he will likely fall into the same category as guys like Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson or Sam Snead. While they all choked at big times, their careers are just too good to label them as chokers.

9. Colin Montgomerie

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    Colin Montgomerie will be remembered for a lot of good things. Amongst other things, he is a successful Ryder Cup captain, one of the most accomplished European Tour players of all time and one of the most accomplished Ryder Cup players of all time.

    Unfortunately, he has never won a major and never won a tournament of any kind in the USA, although he has had his chances.

    In 1994, he shot a 78 in an 18-hole playoff against Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, who both shot 74. In the 1995 PGA Championship, he lost a sudden death playoff to Steve Elkington, although that was more because of what Elkington did right than what Montgomerie did wrong.

    In the 1997 US Open, Montgomerie followed an opening-round 65 with a 76 in round two. He was in contention throughout the weekend, but bogeyed the 71st hole to give Els his one-shot margin of victory.

    The 2006 US Open will be remembered more for who didn't win than who won. Geoff Ogilvy was the last man standing. Before Mickelson made a double bogey on the 72nd hole, Montgomerie did the same thing, only he did so from the middle of the fairway.

    Montgomerie changed clubs and by his own admission, hit one of the worst shots of his life, leaving himself short and right of the green. He failed to make a par, which would have won him the tournament, and missed his bogey putt that would have put him in a playoff.

    When his name is mentioned, the positive stuff enters the minds of most golf fans. Unfortunately, his failures do too.

8. Kenny Perry

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    While he's not as accomplished as Montgomerie, Perry has a similar track record.

    He's won a lot, especially after turning 40, but his failures are unforgettable.

    The 1996 PGA Championship was held in Perry's home state of Kentucky, at Valhalla.

    After making a bogey on the final hole, Perry went to the broadcast booth instead of practicing. He finished the tournament tied with Mark Brooks, who predictably defeated Perry on the first playoff hole.

    He notched a T-10 in the 1998 PGA Championship, and recorded three top-10 performances in the majors in 2003, but the next time Perry found himself in true contention of a major was the 2009 Masters.

    There, he nearly aced the 16th hole on Sunday. The subsequent birdie putt gave him a two-shot lead with two to play. Unfortunately, he made consecutive bogeys and then bogeyed the second playoff hole. Angel Cabrera won the tournament on that hole.


    Sidenote: Honorable mention goes to his Cabrera's countryman, Roberto De Vicenzo. What happened at the 1968 Masters isn't a choke, as it had nothing to do with what happened on the course, but it needs mentioning.

    Tommy Aaron wrote the wrong score for De Vincenzo on the 17th hole. When De Vincenzo failed to check closely enough, he signed for a four instead of a three. That error left him one shot out of a playoff with Bob Goalby.

7. Doug Sanders

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    Doug Sanders has been a runner-up at each of the four majors. In 1966, he finished in the top-10 at every major. Despite that, he has no major victories to his credit.

    The 1970 British Open was the most well-known collapse, and it's why he is on this list. Sanders' tee shot on the 18th hole landed only 74 yards away from the pin, virtually assuring a par. That would have won him the championship.

    A poor approach shot put a little extra stress on Sanders, but he still looked good. He then lagged his putt to three feet away, leaving himself a sidehill putt to win the championship.

    Sanders missed the putt and lost the next day's 18-hole playoff to Jack Nicklaus. Now, more than 40 years later, he is known for a lot of things. Unfortunately for him, nothing gets remembered more than that putt.

    Today, Sanders jokes that he doesn't think about that putt all the time. In fact, sometimes four or five minutes go by without him thinking about it.

    The picture here is fitting as it features Paul Lawrie with Sanders. Sanders provided one of the biggest collapses in British Open history while Lawrie was on the right end of one of the biggest collapses in British Open history.

    But more on that later.

6. T.C. Chen

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    Watch a foursome of bogey golfers for an 18-hole round. Heck, watch a foursome of double bogey golfers for an 18-hole round.

    You will see plenty of missed short putts and plenty of duffs and shanks. That goes without saying. What you will probably not see that often is a double hit.

    Sure, it happens, I've done it, it just doesn't happen often. You certainly wouldn't expect to see it from a guy who held the 54-hole lead of a U.S. Open, but it did.

    For those unfamiliar with the golf rules, when you double hit a ball, you have to count both shots. Chen would eventually miss a playoff with eventual champion Andy North by one shot.

    His name went from a proper noun to just a noun. Double hitting a ball is often called "pulling a Chen."

    Additionally, it's also joked that the T.C. stands for "Two Chips."

    It's an unfortunate way to be remembered, but that's what most people think of when hearing Chen's name.

5. Scott Hoch

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    Hoch the choke. What else needs to be said? Actually, Hoch belongs on this list for more than just his last name.

    Pictured here is Hoch, after he missed a two-foot putt that would have won him the Masters. That was his third putt of the day that would have won him the tournament. He actually left a longer putt to continue the playoff with Nick Faldo, which he made.

    Unfortunately, that only prolonged his misery, as Faldo ended the tournament on the next hole.

    Had he made that putt, we would have been a little more likely to forget his three-putt from inside of 10 feet in the 1987 PGA Championship. A two-putt would have earned him a spot in the playoff.

    Missing a short putt is far more common than a double hit but when it happens on multiple occasions, it should be ranked higher.

    On that note...

4. 2001 US Open: Retief Goosen, Mark Brooks, Stewart Cink

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    Retief Goosen, Mark Brooks and Stewart Cink. I just want to be sure everyone knows that these three are not only professional golfers, but are all major championship winners.

    Before the 2001 US Open, only Brooks had a major, which maybe partially explains what happened on the 72nd hole at Southern Hills. Brooks and Goosen both three-putted that green. Had either one of them two-putted, they would have won the tournament outright.

    Cink also three-putted, which cost him a spot in the playoff.

    Goosen went on to defeat Brooks in the playoff. This US Open is somewhat overshadowed today, which is probably a good thing.

    The 1999 US Open was unforgettable, with Payne Stewart beating Phil Mickelson on Father's Day as Mickelson was hours away from being a dad for the first time.

    The 2000 US Open wasn't particularly exciting, but it was jaw dropping as Tiger Woods turned Pebble Beach into a pitch and putt. Not only was he the only golfer to break par, but he did so by 12 shots.

    In 2002, we got the first US Open at Bethpage Black and saw Tiger Woods prevail over Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.

    While 2001 may be overshadowed by surrounding US Opens, it's hard to forget for anyone who watched it. Three golfers, all contending for the tournament, all three-putted the final green.

    Sure, you can call me a cheater for including a tournament on a list of chokers, but this tournament broke all of the rules, so why can't I do the same?

3. 1999 European Ryder Cup Team

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    And while we're on the note of listing more than one person in one person's spot, the 1999 European Ryder Cup team needs mention.

    Leading 10-6 going into the final day of competition, the Europeans needed only four points from 12 matches to retain the Ryder Cup. That didn't happen.

    Fortunately for the European Team, this day is more remembered for Justin Leonard's putt than anything else. From that, we got the exuberant celebration, which caused controversy.

    The American's won the first six matches on that Sunday. Of those, only two reached the 16th hole.

    After that, Steve Pate defeated Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Jim Furyk beat Sergio Garcia to put the American team a half point away from victory. 

    That still seemed easier said than done as Justin Leonard was four down against José María Olazábal and Payne Stewart was in a tough match against Colin Montgomerie.

    Leonard completed his comeback on the 17th hole. He made his long putt and when Olazábal missed his, the half point was guaranteed.

    Even if that putt hadn't dropped, the American team still might have won, as Stewart conceded a meaningless 18th hole to Montgomerie. He certainly would not have done that had the cup not been clinched.

    When great comebacks happen, we generally remember the person or team doing the comeback and not the person or team on the wrong end of it.

    A team sports comparison would be the 1992 Buffalo Bills, who came back from being down 35-3 to beat the Houston Oilers in the playoffs.

    Still, those great comebacks would not be accomplished without a lot of help from the team that built the tremendous lead in the first place.

2. Jean Van De Velde

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    Van de Velde is similar to T.C. Chen in that his name has gone from a proper noun to a noun.

    He needed only a double bogey on the last hole to win the tournament. By the time he reached that green, he had to make a nice putt to earn a spot in the playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie.

    In the four-hole playoff, Lawrie beat both Van de Velde and Leonard by three shots.

    To be fair to Van de Velde, the 18th hole at Carnoustie is a difficult hole. It did the same thing to Padraig Harrington in 2007, but he won the subsequent playoff.

    Unlike any other golfer on this list (with the possible exception of Chen), Van de Velde was basically a one-shot pony. He was a Cinderella story whose glass slipper broke one hole too early. So why is he this high on the list?

    His name is synonymous with choking. At some point, you've probably heard someone say, "This tournament's his, unless he pulls a Van de Velde," or some variation of that.

    It was just that colossal a choke.

1. Greg Norman

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    Walk up to any San Francisco 49ers fan and ask them who they think the best wide receiver on the team was between the years of 1985 and 2000.

    Sure, there were some good receivers to come through the team in that time frame, but the obvious answer to that question is Jerry Rice. After all, he's the best receiver of all time, certainly he was the best receiver on his team during his career.

    The number one on this list is only slightly less obvious.

    Yeah, I feel bad saying that, as Norman accomplished a lot in his career. He won 20 tournaments on the PGA Tour, 14 in Europe and 31 on the Australasian Tour. He has also won two British Opens (1986, 1993).

    Additionally, the Australian's influence is being felt now with an International explosion on the golf world.

    But by far, the chokes are what we remember about him.

    To be fair, they weren't all chokes. He was greatly victimized by Larry Mize (1987 Masters) and Bob Tway (1986 PGA Championship) holing out shots to beat him, but plenty of chokes rest on Norman's shoulders.

    Let's look at his 1986 "Saturday Slam," where he held the lead after three rounds of all four majors.

    Masters: We remember Jack Nicklaus' back-nine charge. But after losing his lead early in the round, Norman made a charge of his own, tying Nicklaus by the time he reached the 18th hole. The Shark made a bogey on that hole from the middle of the fairway.

    US Open: Norman shot a 75 on the final round, going from the lead to a tie for 12th.

    British Open: He won by five shots, earning his first of two career majors.

    PGA Championship: Yes, Tway holed a shot from the bunker, but Norman shot a 76 on the final round to lose by two shots.

    Keep in mind that I haven't even mentioned the 1996 Masters yet.

    There, Norman took a six-shot lead into the final pairing with Nick Faldo. Norman shot a 78 to Faldo's 67 to lose the tournament by five shots.

    In 1999, Van de Velde gave us the greatest single hole choke in golf history. The greatest single round choke belongs to Norman.

    On its own, that may not even qualify him for this list. If it did, he would be in a similar spot to Mickelson. But that, combined with his prior chokes, make him the obvious number one here.