My Five: Favorite Comeback Wins

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My Five: Favorite Comeback Wins

October 18, 2010

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Johnny Miller1994 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AmJohnny MillerA yippy and oft-injured Miller had retired from full-time play in 1989 and repaired to the broadcast booth. At 46, he had not won since 1987, and was only playing at Pebble as a two-time former champion and because it was his favorite tournament. Early in the week he found he was easily hitting a controlled fade, which had always marked his best golf. His putting was another matter, but during rounds of 68, 72 and 67, he had held off the yips by alternately putting with his eyes closed, looking at the hole, and/or pretending he was his 15-year-old son. Sunday was a struggle, but Miller avoided three-putting while Tom Watson couldn't. With a final two putt from 20 feet on the final hole, Miller had won his 25th and final official victory. "This is magic," said Miller, whose greatest satisfaction may have been coming down from the booth to beat the players who had been criticizing his commentary as out of touch with the modern game.

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Ken Venturi1964 U.S. OpenKen VenturiVenturi had fallen precipitously from four years before, when he was vying with Arnold Palmer as the best player in the game. After injuring his back in a car accident and developing carpal tunnel syndrome, Venturi considered quitting after winning less than $4,000 in 1963. But at Congressional, Venturi rediscovered an iron game that at its best ranked in the all-time category. In the last time the U.S. Open played the final 36 holes on Saturday, Venturi had a 66 in the morning that ended with two misses from short range but still got him within two strokes of Tommy Jacobs. But Venturi's biggest problem was heat exhaustion so severe he was granted an extra 30 minutes before his final round. Taking salt tablets while trudging slowly along the fairways, Venturi fashioned a 70 that won by four. "My God, I've won the Open," he said as his final 10-footer dropped. His playing partner, a 21-year-old Raymond Floyd, retrieved the ball with tears in his eyes.

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Paul Azinger2000 Sony OpenPaul AzingerAfter being diagnosed with lymphoma a month after winning the 1993 PGA, Azinger in the ensuing six years fell to the lower rungs of the PGA Tour. But he was inspired when his friend Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open in 1999, and was devastated by his death four months later. At Waialae, Azinger said he modeled Stewart's poise at Pinehurst, and won by seven shots. "This was for a lot of people," said Azinger after his 12th career victory. "It's just difficult to feel the same amount of joy that I used to feel, like when I won the PGA, that unencumbered joy. I was seeing life through rose-colored glasses. I don't wear those glasses anymore." Azinger, now 50, hasn't had a victory since. "That win in Hawaii took everything out of me," he said in 2008.

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Tom Watson1996 MemorialTom WatsonWatson's legendary will had been sorely tested in the nine years -- 141 tournaments -- since his last victory in 1987. Though he was as good a ballstriker as he had been when he won 35 tournaments, including seven majors between 1977 and 1984, Watson's putting kept failing him every time he got into contention, costing him the 1994 British Open among other opportunities. In the final round of the Memorial, it looked as if the syndrome would persist when he missed a two-footer on the first hole, but by envisioning Ben Crenshaw's stroke he steadied and took a four-stroke lead. But when David Duval played the final five holes in five under, Watson had to keep making short putts, finally holing a 15-footer for birdie at the 72nd for a two-stroke victory. Said Watson, "It was like winning all over again for the first time."

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John Daly2004 Buick InvitationalJohn DalyAfter improbably winning the 1995 British Open, Daly went into a long tailspin that ultimately saw him drop out of the top 125 in 2003. But he rededicated in 2004 and had the most consistent season of his career, making 17 of 22 cuts. At Torrey Pines, he shot rounds of 69, 66, 68 to take a two-stroke lead, but struggled on Sunday with a 75. It got him into a playoff with Luke Donald and Chris Riley. On the first hole, the par-5 18th, Daly hit his second shot into a back bunker. With the pin on a downslope near a pond, Daly hit a superb 100-foot explosion to within two feet to win. "It's the greatest one," said an emotional Daly of what has been the last high point in his roller-coaster ride. Can there be another?

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