Best Of The DecadeDecember 23, 2019

From Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods: The top 10 major championships of the decade

Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson
Warren Little/R&A

With bookend Masters wins by Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the past decade has given golf fans more than their fair share of memorable major championships. But while star power on the leader board certainly helps to create a classic, Sunday drama is the ultimate factor. And spectacular recovery shots under pressure don't hurt, either. Whittling down from 40 tournaments to 10 was a bit of a challenge, and there were several difficult omissions. Those include the eventful, but rules-controversy marred, 2010 PGA Championship and 2018 U.S. Open. And apologies to Charl Schwartzel, but his four-birdie finish at Augusta National just misses, in part because we felt we had too many Masters already (If there's an award for the most consistently exciting major of the past decade, it's certainly the one that takes place in April). In any matter, here's a look back at the 10—well, 11—that made our final cut.

PODCAST: Our editors debate the top 10 majors of the decade

10. 2018 Open Championship/2018 PGA Championship

Harry How

OK, so we cheated a little here. But these back-to-back majors were tough to choose from because they followed such a similar script with Tiger Woods making a Sunday charge. In both cases, he couldn’t finish the job, but he walked away as a bigger story than the two winners, Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka (no offense, guys). For Woods, an absurd—and gutsy—shot from a fairway bunker on No. 10 at Carnoustie, and a hooked approach from the left gallery on No. 9 at Bellerive stand out. The latter resulted in an opening 32 despite Woods not hitting a single fairway on the front nine. Woods was still trying to find his game in his latest comeback—this time from back-fusion surgery—but he seemed to discover some of that old magic. About a month after his runner-up to Koepka, Tiger won the Tour Championship for his first victory in more than five years.


9. 2017 Masters

Augusta National

Sergio Garcia’s window for winning a major championship seemed to be closing. And at Augusta National, it never seemed to have been open. But there the Spaniard was taking the 54-hole lead and going head to head with longtime friend and European Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose. When Garcia lost the lead and fell behind by three on the back nine, reality seemed to have sunk in. But a miraculous par on No. 13 and an eagle on 15 forced a playoff that Garcia won with a birdie. At long last (!), Sergio had his maiden major title. In fact, his 74 starts before winning one is a record.


8. 2015 U.S. Open

Andrew Redington

The final hour at Chambers Bay was about as wacky as they come. First, Branden Grace, holding a share of the lead with three holes to go, hit his tee shot on No. 16 out-of-bounds and onto some railroad tracks. Jordan Spieth finished birdie-double bogey-birdie. And then there was Dustin Johnson. After hitting two of the most magnificent shots imaginable—a 350-yard drive and a 5-iron to 15 feet—on the closing par 5, DJ raced his winning eagle attempt about four feet past the hole and then missed the comebacker. It instantly became one of the most heart-breaking three-putts in history, while Spieth’s 2015 season, which already included a Masters win, instantly became historic. Johnson would get some redemption a year later at the U.S. Open, although that came with a different kind of drama.


7. 2013 Masters

Harry How

All seemed back to normal in the golf world late that Friday afternoon as Tiger Woods, still searching for his first major since his scandal, had a share of the lead by the time he reached the 15th hole. But an awful bounce off the flagstick and a bad drop resulted in a triple bogey that dashed his weekend chances. Even with Tiger out of serious contention, Sunday was filled with drama as Adam Scott birdied the 72nd hole to seemingly win his first major and the first Masters for Australia. Of course, it never comes easy. Angel Cabrera's incredible answer in the rain sent the two to a playoff, which Scott won by rolling in another birdie putt on the 10th hole.


6. 2013 Open Championship

Rob Carr

This wasn’t the Open pundits predicted Phil Mickelson would win throughout his career, but his Sunday 66 at Muirfield turned a five-shot deficit into a three-shot victory over Henrik Stenson (who got Phil back a few years later). Despite playing in the fifth-to-last pairing, Mickelson made the final hour meaningless with birdies on the final two holes. His birdie on No. 17 was especially notable as Mickelson, who took driver out of his bag for the week, reached the long par 5 with a pair of perfectly struck 3-woods. Meanwhile, 54-hole leader Lee Westwood was once again left wondering if he’d ever win a maiden major, and Tiger Woods, T-6 after a final-round 74, was left wondering if he’d ever win another. (SPOILER ALERT: He does! Keep reading …)


5. 2012 Masters

Streeter Lecka

Imagine making an albatross to take the lead in the final round of the Masters and not having that even be the most memorable shot of the day? Such was Louis Oosthuizen's fate after falling victim to one of the most remarkable recovery shots in golf history—in a playoff, no less. The South African appeared on his way to winning a second major championship in three years and pulling off the rare St. Andrews-Augusta National double when Bubba Watson's drive on No. 10, the second extra hole, went way right. But the lefty hooked a wedge from the pine straw that wound up 15 feet away from the pin. When Oosthuizen failed to get up and down to save par on the hole, Bubba's two-putt gave him his first green jacket and made him one of the game's biggest stars.

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4. 2016 Open Championship

Warren Little/R&A

Andrew (Beef) Johnston became an instant phenomenon at Royal Troon that week, but golf fans will forever remember the phenomenal exhibition put on by Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson. Perhaps only eclipsed by the famed “Duel in the Sun” for all-time golf mano-a-mano matchups, this “Duel in the Grey” saw the two trade birdies and eagles in the final pairing on Saturday and Sunday. Mickelson shot 17 under for the week, including lipping out a putt on 18 that would have given him a 62 in the first round. And lost. Phil shot a final-round 65. And lost ground. Stenson’s Sunday 63 gave him his first major title and a record-setting score of 20 under. The Swede beat Mickelson by three shots and finished 14 (!) shots ahead of third place.


3. 2010 Masters

Harry How

“A win for the family!” The first major of the decade sure delivered as Phil Mickelson won with wife Amy in attendance for the first time since being diagnosed with breast cancer nearly a year before. Tiger Woods’ highly anticipated return from his scandal began with a Thursday front-nine 32 and ended with a T-4. Anthony Kim made a spirited back-nine run on Sunday, but Phil stole the show by nearly making three consecutive eagles on Saturday to take the lead—and by pulling off his legendary Sunday shot from the pine straw on No. 13 en route to a third (and final?) green jacket:


2. 2014 PGA Championship

Jeff Gross

In terms of pure final-round entertainment, this was No. 1 with four big names (Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler) battling down the stretch at Valhalla. It’s also the only major of the decade in which four golfers wound up playing together (sort of) on the final hole when the final group was allowed to hit into the penultimate pairing (Phil wasn’t too pleased about that!) to avoid a Monday finish. McIlroy, whose back-nine rally after blowing his 54-hole lead on the front was fueled by an eagle on the 10th hole, nearly found the water with his tee shot on No. 18. Minutes later, he tapped in for par in near darkness to win by one and claim a fourth major at 25. Wild times! But aren't they always at Valhalla?


1. 2019 Masters

J.D. Cuban

Expect anything different?! OK, so that was from the 2008 U.S. Open, but it ties in because Tiger Woods’ previous major triumph looked like it would be his last after more than a decade of failed attempts to win his 15th career major. But something happened on the way to Magnolia Lane. Something golf fans will never forget. Tiger played himself into contention through 36 holes thanks to a miraculous birdie from the pine straw on Friday in which he survived a scary brush with a sliding security guard. He then survived the dangerous 12th hole on Sunday and outlasted a loaded leader board. And as if this Hollywood script couldn't get any better, the defining shot of the tournament—a 6-iron to three feet on No. 16—came with another GOAT, Michael Phelps, watching intently:

Shortly after, Woods tapped in for that long-awaited No. 15 and even longer-awaited fifth green jacket to set off one of the most emotional scenes in sports history:

Good luck to any major championship in the next decade topping that.

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