Even for the best, golf is littered with headwrecking frustrations

In every sport, there’s a team, or a venue, or an event, or a player that proves to be someone’s nemesis. Sometimes it just gets in the player’s head but it proves to be a complete bogeyman… and golf is littered with them, says Kevin Markham


Phil Mickelson

One name looms large here: Phil Mickelson. He has been the runner-up on six occasions. Six! He could still win it, thereby realising the career Grand Slam of all four Majors, but everyone knows that time has pretty much run out for the 47-year-old.

But it’s not as if he shouldn’t have won it before now. He has had one hand on the trophy on more than one occasion, only to let it slip from his fingers with a late collapse. He completely blew it at Winged Foot in 2006, when he had the Championship at his mercy. Phil led by two after 15 holes and stood on the 18th tee, in the final pairing, one shot ahead. Five terrible shots eventually led to a double bogey. If he had won he would have been one of only four players to win three majors in a row.

Phil Mickelson

In 2004, at Shinnecock Hills, he three-putted the 71st hole from five feet for a double bogey and lost by two to Retief Goosen. In 1999, he suffered another final hole loss, at Pinehurst, losing by one stroke to Payne Stewart. He lost by three strokes to Tiger Woods in 2002, and by two strokes to Lucas Glover in 2009. In 2013, he had another golden opportunity at Merion, entering the final round leading by one stroke… but he recorded two double bogeys in the first five holes to drop out of the lead.

He regained it by holing from the rough at the 10th for an eagle, but bogeys followed at 13 and 15. His bogey on 18 meant he finished two strokes behind Justin Rose. “This is tough to swallow after coming so close,” he said afterwards. “I felt like this was as good an opportunity I could ask for and to not get it... it hurts.”

Colin Montgomerie

Another golfer to have come close on a number of occasions is Colin Montgomerie. Unlike Phil, however, Monty never won any of the Majors, coming second on five occasions. Three of those were at the US Open… and one of those — his greatest disaster — was at Winged Foot in 2006. After a phenomenal birdie putt on the 17th, Monty split the 18th fairway to leave a relatively straightforward second shot. He was tied with Mickelson at that point who was playing behind him. Forced to wait on the players in front he ended up switching from a six iron to a seven and then left his approach well short of the green in the notorious Winged Foot rough. A poor chip and a three-putt from 30 feet meant he double-bogeyed the hole and, like Phil, ended up one stroke behind the winner, Geoff Ogilvy.

Afterwards, he said: “At my age, I’ve got to think positively. I’m 43 next week, and it’s nice I can come back to this tournament and do well… and I look forward to coming back here again next year and trying another US Open disaster.”

Colin Montgomerie

Monty came third in the US Open in 1992, at the age of 29, although he must have thought he’d won when Jack Nicklaus congratulated him as he walked off the final green with the words: “Congratulations on your first US Open victory.” It wasn’t to be. Monty’s impressive 70 at a very windy Pebble Beach meant he jumped 25 places on the final day. Tom Kite, however, was still on the course at the rear of the field and finished with a steady 72 to win by two strokes. It wasn’t surprising that Nicklaus assumed Monty would win: the final round scoring average was 77.3.

In 1994, at Oakmont, Monty lost in a three-man play-off to Ernie Els, who won his first Major. Monty, Els, and Loren Roberts finished on five under and then went into an 18-hole play-off. Monty had a disastrous start with double bogeys on holes 2, 3 and 11, and finished four shots behind Els and Roberts. Els won on the second hole in the sudden-death play-off.

In 1997, Monty lost by one stroke to Ernie Els at Congressional, the two players both scoring 69 on the final day to be the only players in the top 10 to break 70.

Montgomerie was also runner-up in the PGA Championship in 1995, where he finished with three birdies at the Riviera Country Club, to match the 17 under total of Steve Elkington. Monty shot a six under 65 in the final round, while Elkington went one better.

They had started the day five and six shots behind Ernie Els, respectively. The play-off lasted just one hole with Elkington sinking a 25 footer for birdie. Monty from a few feet closer couldn’t match him.

His final runner-up spot was in the Open Championship in 2005, at St Andrews, when he was five shots behind Tiger Woods who had led from start to finish.

He remains one of the best golfers never to have won a Major. One wonders how many of his 31 European wins, his eight European Tour Order of Merits, and three Senior Major Championships he would he swap for one Major.


Tom Kite

Tom Kite, a top 10 player in the world rankings for 175 weeks (1989 to 1994) holds the dubious distinction of playing in the most Augusta Masters without a win. In his 26 attempts he did, however, come second on three occasions and was inside the top six a further eight times.

Greg Norman

Greg Norman

No one will ever forget Norman’s final day collapse in 1996, when he was six shots clear of Faldo, but fell apart and eventually lost by five to the Englishman. It wasn’t his only stunning Masters loss because his 1987 play-off against Larry Mize comes close for drama. Mize chipped in from well off the green for birdie in their sudden-death play-off. Norman couldn’t sink his putt to match him. He had also come second the year before, in 1986, when a successful par putt on the 18th would have put him into a play-off against Jack Nicklaus. In 1988 and 1989 he came fifth and third, respectively. He also came third in 1995 and 1999. Norman won two Open Championships but his losses at the Masters must still haunt him.

Jordan Spieth

Sometimes it is not an opponent or a tournament that proves problematic… sometimes it is a hole. The par three 12th at Augusta will be burned into Jordan Spieth’s memory for an eternity after his 2016 collapse when he was cruising to victory on the last day.


Jordan Spieth

The previous year’s winner was five shots clear heading to the 10th tee but he then bogeyed the next two holes. His lead was being further reduced by Danny Willett’s late birdie blitz and Spieth stood on the 12th tee, one shot ahead. Jack Nicklaus once called the 12th “the most dangerous par 3 in the game,” and Spieth proved the point by putting his tee shot in the water. Forced to use the dropping zone he then put that shot in the water as well. He ended up with a quadruple bogey and found himself three shots behind Willett, which is where he finished.

In the run-up to the 2017 Masters, much was made of how this meltdown would affect his psyche. For the first three days, the 12th caused him no trouble (although he managed to record another quadruple bogey in round one, after finding water at the par five 15th) and he started the final day in a tie for 4th.

And once again it was the 12th that derailed his hopes as he found the water and recorded a double bogey that put him out of contention. It is almost unfair to mention this as Spieth’s Augusta record is so impressive, but expect lots of commentary about his water disasters if he’s among the 2018 leaders going into the final day.

No Major Streaks

There is one active player with a substantial Major-less streak. Lee Westwood has 79 Major starts without a win. He came second on three occasions, twice at the Masters and once at the Open Championship. He also came third on six other occasions.

Lee Westwood

His best period was between 2009 and 2010, when over the course of five consecutive Majors, his record was tied 3rd, tied 3rd, 2nd, tied 16th, and 2nd. Of these, perhaps his closest shave was at the 2009 Open Championship, when an eagle on the final day pushed him into the lead… only for three late bogeys to scupper his chances, as Stewart Cink went on to defeat Tom Watson in a play-off.

At the 2010 Masters, he led Phil Mickelson by one in the final pairing but Mickleson delivered a bogey-free round of five under to win by three. He also dropped to a tie for third in the Open in 2013, having led by two going into the last day. Mickelson overcame a five shot deficit and beat Stenson by three.

Only Jay Haas, who now plays on the seniors tour, has a poorer streak, which runs to 87 Major appearances.


The Bogey Man

There are some players that opponents never want to face. In the biennial match between Europe and the USA, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the final day singles.

Colin Montgomerie represented Europe eight times and never lost a singles match. He won six times and twice sank the winning putt (1997, 2004). His two halves were against Calcavecchia and Hoch. His match against Calcavecchia was his first appearance in a Ryder Cup, and he came back from four down with four to play. His six wins were against Janzen, Crenshaw, Stewart, Hoch, and twice against David Toms, beating him by one hole on both occasions.

The Bogey Men

Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal formed a dominant partnership. Fifteen times they played together and they lost only twice.

Seve Ballesteros

Their record was 11-2-2. They were nicknamed the Spanish Armada, and earned 12 points for Europe. That is six points more than any other Ryder Cup partnership. Seve’s competitive spirit wasn’t always appreciated by the US players but his record speaks for itself.


Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus

No one would refer to Nicklaus as a bridesmaid but in addition to his 18 Majors he was also the runner-up in 19 others. In terms of the greatest imbalance, he won the Open Championship three times but came second on seven occasions. In one remarkable stretch of 15 years (1966–1980) Nicklaus finished every Open in the top six. This included his three wins and six runner-up spots.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Tiger holds so many records it is hard to keep up but one statistic does stand out: Tiger has held the outright 54-hole lead in 45 professional tournaments. He won 43 of them. As an opponent, playing alongside Woods on the final day, it doesn’t get more intimidating than that.

Ireland Amateurs

JB Carr won the West of Ireland 12 times (between 1946 and 1966). Cecil Ewing won it 10 times (between 1930 and 1950). The two men met in the final four times and Cecil Ewing lost on every occasion, the last time in 1958. Indeed, Carr never lost a final.


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