The 10 Greatest Golf Major Performances of All Time

Golf fans are blessed. No matter what time of year it is, no matter what the weather is like at home you can be sure that there is a top class golf tournament going on somewhere to watch and have a bet on. However, there are only four tournaments guaranteed to get you practicing your swing while filling up the car, the majors.

Each year the best players in the world battle it out to win the Masters, the US Open, the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship. They are considered the pinnacle of the game and every win requires an incredible display of golf. But, what are the greatest ever major performances in the history of the game?

It is always tough to compare eras and events but the 10 major performances below rank as some of the best golf tournaments to have ever been played. Either because of one man’s performance, a tenacious battle or because of the story behind it. So, grab a cup of tea and enjoy a trip down memory lane…

Gene Sarazen at the 1935 Masters

Gene Sarazen may have needed a 36 hole playoff to defeat Craig Wood in only the second Masters tournament but it is one particular shot that makes this performance a great. With four holes to go, Sarazen was three strokes adrift of Wood before he holed out his second shot on the par five 15th for an albatross. That 4-wood became known as “the shot heard around the world” and is a big reason for the growth in popularity of the Masters.

Ben Hogan at the 1950 US Open

Ben Hogan was already a household name having won three majors but when his car was hit head on by a bus in February 1949 doctors doubted whether he’d ever walk again let alone play golf at the highest standard.

Not only did Hogan win the 1950 US Open at Merion after a three way playoff but he parred the final hole of the 72 by hitting a 1-iron into the green which was captured to become one of golf’s most iconic photographs.

Arnold Palmer at the 1960 US Open

No list of great major performances would be complete without a mention for Arnold Palmer. “The King” won seven majors in an incredible career in which he became known for going on incredible streaks to chase down the leader.

Perhaps the best of these came at Cherry Hills. Palmer teed off on the Sunday in 15th place, some seven shots off the lead. But he began his round by driving the green at the 346 yard first which gave him the boost needed to card a 65 giving him a two stroke win over the then amateur Jack Nicklaus.

Tom Watson at the 1977 Open Championship

Whenever two players go head to head in a major it will be compared to the incredible battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry. The pair were tied for second after day two and were drawn together for the final two days when they pushed each other on to some brilliant golf which became known as the “Duel in the Sun”. They were level on Sunday morning but Watson eventually prevailed by a single stroke in one of the greatest Opens ever.

Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters

By 1986 Jack Nicklaus was the most successful golfer of all time with 17 majors but nobody was expecting any more from the 46-year-old. The Golden Bear was supposed to be making up the numbers only at Augusta but he defied the critics who had written him off to win his sixth green jacket by chasing down the leaders with a final round of 65. Having started Sunday tied for ninth Nicklaus showed all his old prowess to win what was his final major, a great performance from perhaps the greatest golfer of them all.

Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters

This was the event when the world really sat up and took notice of Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods. Tiger had only turned pro in August 1996 but he turned up at Augusta National having won three PGA Tour events. The first of Tiger’s 14 majors was achieved by a then record score at Augusta of -18 making him the youngest player to win the Masters.

Tiger Woods at the 2000 US Open

We’ve become accustomed to thinking of Tiger dominating golf after that 1997 Masters win but it’s not the case. Having added the 1999 PGA Championship to his collection Woods began an overhaul of his swing leading some commentators to wonder just what all the fuss was about. That was until he blew the field away at Pebble Beach.

Not only did Tiger win by 15 shots but he was the only player to finish the tournament under par and he went on to win the next three majors to complete the “Tiger Slam”.

Tom Watson at the 2009 Open Championship

OK, so Watson lost a playoff to Stewart Cink in the 2009 Open at Turnberry but his performance was still truly great.

At 59, Watson went off as a 1,500/1 shot for what would have been his first major for 26 years. When the five time Open champion was second after day two it was a pleasant surprise, when he tied the lead on day two it was international news, when he lead outright on day three it was turning into one of the biggest sporting stories in history and when he missed an eight foot putt to win on the 18th on Sunday it served as a reminder of how captivating and cruel this game can be. In the play-off age really caught up with him as mental and physical fatigue left him well short of the game needed to prevail.

Rory McIlroy at the 2014 US PGA Championship

We’ve seen some great performances when eventual winners have had to fight off the challenge of a competitor but this may be the best battling performance in a major ever. Rory went into Sunday with a one shot lead but over the course of an incredible Sunday he saw Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson all overtake him at some stage.

McIlroy looked short of quality in the opening holes but it all turned around when he eagled the par five 10th thanks to a mishit 3-wood. He then birdied the 13th and 17th before being allowed to play up on the 18th by Mickelson and Fowler in the group ahead so that he could beat the drastically fading light and win consecutive major championships, proving his credentials as the best in the world.

Jason Day at the 2015 US PGA Championship

In his incredible spell of 2000, Tiger Woods set the record low score for a major championship with 19 under par at the Open Championship. Golf fans were beginning to wonder whether that record would ever be beaten until Jason Day romped to the US PGA Championship in 2015 with an amazing score of 20 under par.

The performance was even greater than the score suggests as Day had to hold off the challenge of a rampaging Jordan Spieth to win his first ever major, having gone close a number of times previously, sparking uncontrollable tears on the 18th at Whistling Straits.