Golf’s oldest professional major, the PGA Championship, dates to 1916. Compelling storylines and dramatic finishes define the PGA, both during the match-play years (1916–1957) and since. With the strongest field of any of the four major championships, it’s no wonder that so many exciting moments have involved the game’s greatest players. As always, to narrow it down to a top five, we employed a single criterion: To what extent did the memorable moment not only thrill us, but also move us emotionally? Here, then, are the top five greatest PGA Championship moments.
5. Lefty lobs his way to glory at Baltusrol (2005)
Admittedly, Phil Mickelson’s 2021 PGA Championship victory in the wild winds at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina moved us emotionally as with few other tournaments ever. At age 51, the win was so joyously unexpected, it resonated in remarkable fashion. For a true moment, however, rather than an overall performance, Micklelson’s exploits in 2005 shine brightest.
Tied for the lead on the 72nd hole at Baltusrol’s venerable Lower course in New Jersey, Mickelson center-cut his tee shot on the 554-yard par five, leaving 247 yards to the green. Spying a stone plaque 10 yards ahead of him that commemorates a titanic Jack Nicklaus 1-iron in the 1967 U.S. Open, Mickelson tapped it twice, “for some good karma.” He found it. Mickelson’s cut 3-wood found an upslope on the apron of the green, but buried in deep rough. Fortunately, “it was a chip shot that I had hit tens of thousands of times in my backyard,” said Mickelson.
Lefty gouged it out, lobbing it to within two feet of the cup. Before the ball had even stopped rolling, Phil punched the sky with both fists. His tap-in birdie clinched the title by one shot. Acknowledged disappointed joint runner-up Thomas Bjorn, “If there was anybody in the world you’d back to get up and down from there, it would be Phil Mickelson.”
4. Tiger and El Nino trade daggers at Medinah (1999)
By August 1999, third-year-pro Tiger Woods had cashed a ton of checks and reeled in millions of new fans. Still, golf’s golden child had won only one major, the 1997 Masters, and his critics seemed poised to pounce. In Chicago for the PGA, Woods led by five early on Sunday, then was nearly upstaged by El Nino, 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia. The drama crested at the par-four 16th.
Trailing by one, Garcia pushed his drive and the ball settled between the roots of two massive oaks. In a youthful display of bravado, Garcia slapped a hit-and-pray 6-iron, closing his eyes at impact so as to avoid the potentially agonizing sight of ball—or club—smashing into tree. Instead, the ball curved hard to the right, winding up almost on the green. Garcia ran after the shot, ending in a child-like scissors kick, to see where it went.
At the par-three 17th, Woods’s lead nearly vanished, but he holed a tricky, downhill eight-foot par putt to retain it. As Woods stated in a letter to Medinah, “I had to keep reminding myself that the putt did not break as much as it appeared, and I was concentrating on keeping my head still. When I did look up, I knew it was perfectly on line.” Woods would edge Garcia at the 72nd hole, but Garcia’s expression of pure joy at 16 and Woods’s tension-charged, par-saving putt at 17 were unforgettable.
3. Enter the Sandman, exit the Shark: Bob Tway zaps Greg Norman at Inverness (1986)
Rain wiped out Sunday’s final round, but the lightning bolt was yet to come. With eight holes to play on Monday, World No. 1 Greg Norman, fresh off a British Open win, led playing partner Bob Tway by four shots. It wouldn’t hold up. Tway, nicknamed “Brillo” for his distinctive helmet hair, was enjoying a superb season himself, with three PGA victories already. Tway caught the Shark at the 14th hole and they arrived at the short par-four 18th still tied. Tway’s approach found the bunker, Norman’s the edge of the green, 25 feet from the hole. Norman was on his way to a final-nine 40 and a round of five-over-par 76, but he seemed to have seized the momentum at this point. Or so it seemed.
First to play, Tway slipped his wedge through the sand, popped the ball out over a steep lip—and holed the shot. The typically stoic Tway began leaping up and down, like an angry kid in a sandbox. Norman’s own birdie effort to tie never had a chance. Victimized yet again, all Norman could offer was, “It’s a game in which you must expect the unexpected.” Thirty-six years later, Bob Tway’s bunker blast for birdie remains the PGA Championship’s most unexpected shot.
2. Grip it and rip it: John Daly stuns the golf world and becomes an overnight sensation (1991)
After finding out he’d leapfrogged from ninth alternate at the 1991 PGA to next in line, John Daly jumped in his fiancee’s new BMW at 5:00 pm Wednesday in Memphis and motored seven-and-a-half hours north to Indianapolis. When Nick Price withdrew, Daly borrowed his tournament spot and his caddie, Jeff “Squeaky” Medlin, and the legend began. For four days, Squeaky would hand Daly a club and simply say, “Kill.” With his anatomically impossible backswing generating astonishing power, Daly shredded the rugged Pete Dye-designed Crooked Stick course and left his fellow players flabbergasted. “I’ve never seen anybody hit the ball that far,” said a shell-shocked Jack Nicklaus.
Daly’s aw-shucks, mullet-top, country-boy persona and mind-boggling tee shots electrified galleries and super-charged the event. Long John bombed another 300-yard drive at the 72nd hole and bounded up the fairway, fists pumping Arsenio Hall-style, exhorting the crowds one final time. When the last putt dropped, giving Daly a three-shot triumph, golf had a new folk hero. “No one has ever stirred the golf world in one week like John Daly,” said the man who would know—Arnold Palmer.
1. Tiger Woods drains two gigantic putts to edge Bob May (2000)
In a suspense-packed duel with journeyman Bob May at Louisville, Ky.’s, Valhalla Golf Club, Tiger Woods kept his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy that he had won the year before. Not many had heard of Woods’s former junior rival from California, yet May pushed Woods as far as anyone had in 2000, a year where Tiger obliterated the field at the U.S. and British Opens. Drama had already ensued at the tournament’s halfway mark, when 60-year-old Jack Nicklaus, playing in his final PGA Championship, a tournament he had won five times, arrived at the 36th hole needing an eagle to make the cut. Paired with Woods, the Golden Bear missed the cup by mere inches. That only set the table for the unforgettable conclusion.
Woods led May by one shot heading into the final round, but despite his brilliance, he couldn’t shake May. After he canned a 15-foot putt at the 72nd , momentarily taking a one-shot lead, May forced Woods to sink a six-foot putt to tie and earn a three-hole playoff. Woods did exactly that. On the first playoff hole, May failed to reach the par-four 16th in two, but chipped superbly for his tap-in par. Woods stroked his 20-foot try for birdie, and as his ball curled toward the hole, he walked quickly towards it, pointing his index finger at the hole—and down it went. Tiger held on to win by one, becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to capture three majors in a calendar year. Yet, May was equally heroic. He and Woods shattered the all-time PGA Championship scoring record, at 18-under-par 270 and both finished five strokes ahead of third-place Thomas Bjorn. In the most dramatic PGA of all, May did everything but win.