Top moments in US Open history: Payne Stewart, Tiger Woods and more have wowed us
In honor of this year's national championship at historic Pinehurst No. 2, we on the best moments in U.S. Open history.
Payne Stewart's putt at the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst was one of the most memorable moments in the major's history.
Craig Jones / Getty Images North America
By Back9Network and Golfweek
Often dubbed America's national championship, the U.S. Open always features big-name players, pitting the best golfers in the world against one of the toughest courses in the country. The result: historic moments and great finishes.
Here are some of the top moments from 113 years of the U.S. Open:
1950: Hogan wins at Merion after accident
Sixteen months after a car accident that nearly killed him, Ben Hogan came to that hole needing a par to force a playoff. Facing about 213 yards to the hole, he hit a shot that ended up 30-40 feet from the hole, two-putted for par and won a three-way playoff the next day. I pick this for three basic reasons: 1. Hogan's legs were battered and swollen on his 36th hole of the day. 2. I don't know of many other U.S. Open photos that people have framed and put on their walls. 3. Try finding someone who even owns a 1-iron these days. -- Jeff Rude
1960: Arnold Palmer Cherry Hills’s epic drive in the final round
If he doesn’t drive the 346-yard, par-4 first hole, maybe Arnold Palmer doesn’t make birdie, maybe doesn’t make six birdies in the first seven holes, maybe doesn’t shoot 65 – 280 to storm from 15th place to win, and maybe – just maybe – doesn’t become The King and the most beloved golfer ever and a one-man rocket who carried the game to extraordinary heights. Such a frightening thought, so be thankful that he did drive that green with the most important golf shot in U.S. Open history. – Jim McCabe
1966: Arnold Palmer blows seven-shot lead with nine to play
Just six years earlier, Palmer completed one of the greatest comebacks in U.S. Open history, winning after trailing by seven strokes entering the final round. The tables were turned this time as Palmer held a seven-stroke lead over Billy Casper with only nine holes to play. Casper tied Palmer, forcing an 18-hole playoff, which he would then go on to win by four strokes. This was more about a complete collapse by Palmer, rather than a victory by Casper. Nevertheless, Casper was crowned U.S. Open champion for a second time. – Cameron DaSilva
1971: Lee Trevino throws snake at Nicklaus, wins in a playoff
It’s what took place on the first of the 18-hole of the playoff that makes this a great moment. Trevino reached into the pocket of his golf bag, pulled out a rubber snake, and tossed it at Nicklaus, who was sitting by a tree on the tee box. Talk about an ice breaker on the first hole of a playoff, right? The joke was all in fun, as both players, as well as the gallery, shared a laugh. Nicklaus, unfazed by the rubber toy, went on to make birdie on the first hole, taking a one-shot lead over Trevino. – Cameron DaSilva
Watson arrived at the picturesque, 209-yard 17th having just bogeyed the previous hole to fall back into a tie for the lead with Jack Nicklaus. His 2-iron drifted left and chased through the green into the gnarly fescue grass that guarded the shallow, hourglass-shaped green.
Watson’s caddie, Bruce Edwards, realistically calculated that even a golfer with Watson’s superlative touch would be able to stop the ball perhaps only five-to-seven feet from the hole. Imagining the best-case scenario, Edwards optimistically left his partner with the parting shot, “Get it close.” Watson, famously replied, “I’m not gonna get it close; hell, I’m gonna make it!”
Blessed with a fluffy lie, Watson managed to slip the leading edge of his sand wedge, a gift from Tour pro David Graham, underneath and puffed the ball barely onto the putting surface. Once the ball landed, it picked up speed and, as if drawn by a magnet, obediently curved toward the hole, hit the stick flush and fell for a miraculous birdie. --Adam Schupak
1999: Payne Stewart topples Mickelson and Woods
Payne Stewart edged out Phil Mickelson by one shot and Woods by two, taking home his second U.S. Open title. Stewart made an 18-foot par putt on the final hole at Pinehurst No. 2 to secure the victory, ending Mickelson’s hopes of a U.S. Open victory. Lefty carried a pager with him during the final round for an important reason. His wife Amy was pregnant with their first child and expected to go into labor at any moment. Mickelson was prepared to walk off the course, putting his family before a major title. – Cameron DaSilva
2000: Tiger Woods blows away the field
This was Tiger Woods at his best. Calling his performance “dominant” doesn't do it justice. The only player under par for the week (-12), Woods won the championship by 15 strokes, the largest margin of victory for any of the four majors. The next closest competitors, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els, tied for second, finishing +3 for the tournament. Needless to say, this one wasn't even close. – Cameron DaSilva
2008: Tiger Woods plays through pain, wins on bad knee
It’s one of those sports memories you’ll never forget. One of those moments that you know exactly where you were when it happened: Tiger Woods’ putt on 18 at Torrey Pines to force a playoff in 2008. It’s truly one of the best U.S. Opens in recent memory. It ultimately took 91 holes to determine a winner, with Tiger winning on the first sudden-death hole after the 18-hole Monday playoff. And he did it all on one leg. Barely more than a week after winning, Woods had reconstructive knee surgery and couldn't swing a club for six months. If that’s not a gutsy performance, then I don't know what is. – Cameron DaSilva
2011: Rory McIlroy responds to Masters collapse in epic fashion
Alongside Woods’ win in 2000 at Pebble Beach, McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory in 2011 will go down as one of the most dominant performances in the event's history. Playing in his first major since falling apart at the top and shooting 80 in the final round of the Masters just a few months prior, McIlroy did everything but collapse at Congressional. In fact, he did quite the opposite. McIlroy went wire-to-wire for the win, leading all four rounds of the championship en route to an eight-shot victory over Jason Day. Just how dominant was McIlroy? Well, to start, he finished 16-under in what’s considered the toughest tournament in golf. The combined score for the previous 10 U.S. Open champions? Fourteen-under. He also set a U.S. Open record for the lowest score, finishing with a 268, breaking the previous mark held by Jack Nicklaus, Lee Janzen, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk at 272. Quite the way to follow up a collapse. – Cameron DaSilva
2012: Andy Zhang becomes youngest golfer at Open
In 2012, Andy Zhang became the youngest golfer to ever compete in the U.S. Open. While he didn't make the cut, he did break 80 in each of the first two rounds, shooting 79 and 78. For a 14-year-old kid on the big stage of a major championship, Zhang surely held his own. Just two years later in 2014, Lucy Li, 11, will become the youngest golfer to compete in the U.S. Women’s Open. – Cameron DaSilva