Even a Hall of Fame career has its low points, and Arnie had his in the 1966 U.S. Open, where he blew a 7-stroke lead in the final nine holes, allowing Billy Casper to tie and force an 18-hole playoff. Casper then defeated the great Palmer after shooting a 69 to Palmer's 73.
Image: Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Let's not kid ourselves. As much as we love a great comeback, a rags-to-riches story or the crowning of a champion, we can't help but to stop and stare at car wreck — and love it. Heck, even with A-Rod and Jeter on the last innings of their glorious careers, who will ever forget their part in the Yankees' historic collapse in the 2004 ALCS, going from up 3-0 to out on their butts at the hands of the rival Red Sox? And 2013 has had no shortage of guys etching their names in the annals of chokerism. Take a look at the biggest chokers in sports history.
2013 America's Cup: Team Emirates of New Zealand
Sure, it’s only sailing. But what happened in the waters off of San Francisco in September, 2013, left many people calling the America’s Cup one of the greatest comebacks — or chokes — in sports history. Leading the American Team Oracle 8-1, New Zealand’s Team Emirates needed to win only one more race to take home the Cup . . . and had eight chances to do it. But the team, ‘led’ by skipper Dean Barker, was unable to seal the deal, losing eight consecutive races in the span of seven days to lose to the Americans, 9-8 in 19 races. Nineteen, you ask? Yes, what made the loss more devastating was the fact that the Americans entered the event with a two-point penalty, a historic sanction levied days before the race that stemmed from a cheating episode in 2012. Three Team Oracle members were also kicked out of the America’s Cup for the cheating. So to recap: Emirates had to win only nine races to Oracle’s 11, its opponent was down three team members, and it had to win only one out the final eight races. And it still sunk — or stunk.
In the first round of the 2012-13 postseason, the Bruins pulled an epic Game 7 rally to land another team on this list (click ahead). But in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Boston earned a spot all to itself — and a much more memorable one at that. Boston entered Game 6 trailing 3-2 in the series, but was aggressive at home and lead Chicago 3-2 with little more than a minute to go. The the Blackhawks scored to tie it. Oh, well ... we'll just get 'em in overtime, right? Sure. Until 17 seconds later, when goalie Tuukka Rask was beaten by Dave Bolland for the game winner, and just like that, the season was over.
Phil Mickelson, US Open
Lefty's epic 72nd-hole collapse in the 2006 US Open stands among golf's biggest of all time (don't worry, we'll get there in a bit), but his overall collection of ummmm ... work? ... in the tournament deserves an entry unto itself. Sunday at the Open in 2013 was Father's Day. It was Mickelson's 43rd birthday. And it began in a way unlike any Open before — with Mickelson alone in first after 54 holes. But his putter never showed up and a pair of bogeys and two more double-bogeys left him a shot back entering the final hole. Instead of making birdie, he made bogey, giving him his record sixth runner-up finish at the Open. Again, this wasn't his worst Open collapse!
2013 Maple Leafs
Actually, not a whole lot was expected of this team. After all, they had not qualified for the postseason since the 2003-04 season (that's pre-lockout, people). And even when they did make the playoffs in 2013, they were the 5 seed, underdogs to the 4-seed Boston Bruins (Stanley Cup champs just two seasons earlier). But when you're up three goals with less than 11 minutes to play, two with less than two minutes to go ... in a Game 7 ... on the road ... and you lose? Well, you belong on this list. At least Toronto made history, becoming the first team to surrender a three-goal, third-period lead in a Game 7 and lose. Take a bow, Toronto. And at least you had some company, with the Capitals blowing a Game 7 at home, too.
Oh, Sergio. Where to even begin? First, he jumped out to the 36-hole lead at The Players Championship in 2013, earning him a third-round pairing with Tiger Woods. Let's just say the two don't get along. Then during a weather delay on Saturday, he accused Tiger of bush-league, psyche-out stuff — namely, pulling out his wood to draw a reaction from the gallery as Garcia was in his backswing. The shot went awry, and Sergio went off. And Tiger told him to stick it. Then on Sunday, with the world watching to see if Sergio would implode, he obliged. He actually began the final round in the final pairing (Tiger went a group ahead), tied with Woods and David Lingmerth for the lead. Here, you see him reacting to his second tee shot into the water at the famed 17th island hole. After 70 holes, Garcia was at 13-under par. Two holes later, he finished with a 7 under (yup, plus-6 on the final two holes), and Tiger walked off with a championship — finishing at, you guessed it, 13-under par.
2012 US Ryder Cup team
On Sept. 30, 2012, the United States Ryder Cup team entered this, ahem, esteemed hall. Jim Furyk (pictured) and his American teammates entered the final day with a 10-6 lead, needing to only win 4.5 out of 12 possible points to win back the Cup. But Europe blew them off the course at Medinah, collecting 8.5 points to retain the Cup, 14.5-13.5. At least Furyk (a 1-up loser to Sergio Garcia) and Co. can take comfort in knowing they are not alone.
The second of many golf entries on this list, Scott seemed to have his first major victory within reach at the 2012 British Open — until it blew up in his face. Four shots ahead with four holes to play, after eight straight holes with nothing worse than par, Scott bogeyed them all, allowing Ernie Els to steal a one-shot win, and had to fight back tears on the 18th green as the magnitude of his meltdown began to sink in.
'11 Bulls and Thunder
Derrick Rose (far left) was the youngest MVP in NBA history. Kevin Durant is the youngest scoring champion in history. Both were All-NBA this season. And they both led their teams to all-world postseason meltdowns in the 2011 playoffs. The Thunder blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the West finals, all but ending their series vs. the Mavs, while the Bulls blew a 12-point lead in the last three minutes of Game 5 of the East finals vs. the Heat — and were eliminated.
After the first half of their second 2010 matchup vs. the Eagles, it looked like the Giants were on their way to a rout, up 24-3. But Michael Vick and the Eagles had other plans, mounting an epic second-half rally that was highlighted by a 28-point flurry by Philly in the final 7:28. The dagger for the Giants came on the final play of the game. Tied at 31, the Giants punted the ball to the Eagles with 14 seconds remaining. Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson bobbled the punt, but collected the ball and darted up the field past the Giants for the game-winning TD.
Getty ImagesAl Bello
Boston was up threes games to none and looked well on its way to the conference finals. The Flyers had other ideas, overcoming that deficit to force Game 7. In the final game, the Bruins jumped on the Flyers, taking a 3-0 lead. However the Flyers rallied to eliminate Boston in one of the Bruins' worst losses ever.
There are rookie errors, and then there’s this. In his first Indianapolis 500, JR Hildebrand was one turn from victory on May 29, 2011. He failed to make that turn. After moving outside to lap a slower car, he skidded into the wall, which allowed Dan Wheldon to pass him for the win. “It’s a helpless feeling,” Hildebrand said after coasting to second place.
Jean Van de Velde
It almost hurt to watch Van de Velde sit there, untie his shoes and climb into the burn on the 18th hole at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open. Just minutes earlier he had stood on the tee, a 3-shot lead in hand with only a hole between him and the Claret Jug. A double-bogey was all he needed. But a wayward drive started one of the most disastrous holes in major championship history, and Van de Velde had to make a testy seven-footer just to save triple-bogey and reach a playoff. The Claret Jug ended up going to relative unknown Paul Lawrie.
Phil Mickelson, 2006 US Open
As we stated before, Lefty has had more than his share of heartbreak at the US Open. But in 2006, it all came crashing down hardest. Mickelson stood on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead in the final round of the Open. The math was simple: Par wins it. But Mickelson, who had driven the ball poorly all day, pulled out the driver once again and missed the fairway badly. Rather than pitch out and take a big number out of play, Mickelson tried to hit a miracle shot. Instead, his attempt at a banana slice hit a tree and fell just 25 yards ahead of him. From there he was unable to save even bogey, let alone par. "I just can't believe that I did that," he said after the round. "I am such an idiot." Mickelson still has not won the tournament and has finished second six times.
'78 Red Sox
In 1978, the Red Sox curse was alive and well and led the BoSox straight into the hands of the Yankees. After battling all season long, Boston was forced into a one-game playoff with New York for the division. The Yankees won 5-4 on a home run by Bucky Dent and went on to win the World Series in six games over the Dodgers.
Cubs manager Leo Durocher had a lot to worry about late in the season. Chicago spent 155 days of the 1969 season in first place only to lose 17 of 25 in September and fall out of first. The Miracle Mets went on to defeat the Orioles and win their first World Series championship.
Norman wanted to win the Masters more than any other tournament. He had finished runner-up in 1986 and again in 1987, and had seven top-five finishes at Augusta. After a 63 in the third round, Norman took a 6-shot lead into the final round in 1996. But Norman blew up on Sunday, shooting a 78, including an eagle chip on the 15th that lipped out of the hole, dropping Norman to his knees. He lost by 5 shots to Nick Faldo, who won his third Masters. A third-place finish in 1999 was the closest Norman ever got after that.
One minute, Novotna was serving to go up 5-1 over Steffi Graf in the third and final set of the 1993 Wimbledon women’s final. The next, it seemed, she was sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent. In between, the Czech, 24, served a succession of double faults, which turned the match. Consoled by the Dutchess after the match, Novotna “just let go.”
The “Miracle on Manchester,” by the L.A. Kings against the Edmonton Oilers in a 1982 playoff game, remains the largest comeback in NHL playoff history. Down 5-0, the Kings rallied to win 6-5 in Game 3 of the best-of-five series, and eliminated the heavily favored Oilers of Wayne Gretzky (below), who went on to star in L.A. just six years later.
The Mets, defending their first divisional championship since 1988, had a seven-game lead on Sept. 12 before losing 12 of their last 17 games, handing the NL East title to the Phils on the last day of the season — and fulfilling Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ preseason prediction that his team would win the division.
The Yankees remain the only MLB team to lose a seven-game series after taking a 3-0 lead, and their historic collapse paved the way for the Red Sox to end their 86-year World Series title drought. New York led Game 4 of the ALCS by one run in the ninth inning, but a rare blown save by closer Mariano Rivera tied the game, and a home run by Boston’s David Ortiz (pictured) won it in extra innings. Series MVP Ortiz also won Game 5 with a single in the 14th inning.
2000 Trail Blazers
Shaquille O’Neal's celebration following a dunk off an alley-oop from Kobe Bryant capped the Lakers’ rally from 15 down in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Facing an L.A. team with the best record in the league, Portland had won two straight to force Game 7. But the collapse paved the way for the Lakers to win the first of three straight championships — and hastened the demise of another dysfunctional Blazers team.
“The Comeback,” by the Buffalo Bills against the Houston Oilers in a January 1993 playoff game, remains the largest in NFL playoff history. Backup QB Frank Reich led the Bills back from a 35-3 deficit to win 41-38 on a field goal by Steve Christie (2) in overtime. Christie’s shoe made it to the Hall of Fame; Buffalo made it to the third of four straight Super Bowl appearances.
Despite his renown as a Phillies legend, Jim Bunning may still be haunted by “The Phold.” Backed by Bunning’s pitching, longtime loser Philadelphia seemed destined to make it to the World Series — until the Phils blew a 6½-game lead on Cincinnati with 12 remaining, collapsing in a 10-game losing streak, with seven losses coming at home.
Roy Campanella Jr. (in wheelchair) may have felt “It’s Good to Be Alive” when he wrote his 1959 autobiography, but the mood on the ’51 Dodgers wasn’t so upbeat after he and his Brooklyn teammates blew a 13-game lead in August, allowing the hated New York Giants to force a three-game playoff. Bobby Thompson’s ninth-inning home run off Ralph Branca won the pennant for the Giants and was immortalized as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”