Top U.S. Open Meltdowns

The crucible that is the U.S. Open invariably produces drama of the highest order, owing to the most challenging course setup in golf and to the emotion of competing for such a coveted title. As two-time U.S. Open winner Cary Middlecoff said after his second triumph in 1956, “You don’t win the Open. The Open wins you.”

Under that kind of pressure, failure is almost expected, and disaster usually befalls at least one serious contestant at crunch time. Here are the seven most hauntingly memorable U.S. Open meltdowns.

7. Retief Goosen survives a putting debacle at Southern Hills (2001)

Father’s Day, 2001, turned into an exchange of gag gifts at the U.S. Open. Southern Hills’s 18th green was already under fire; controversially, due to its severe back-to-front slope, it was mowed at a higher height than the other greens. No one, however, could have predicted the scene that would unfold on the 72nd hole. Mark Brooks opened the three-ring circus by three-putting that final green, dropping him from -5 to -4. Stewart Cink would surely match or beat that, but Cink hit it long at 18, chipped indifferently and faced a 15-footer for par. He missed—and then startled Father’s Day celebrants erupted when Cink also missed his 20-inch bogey putt. Now it fell to South Africa’s Retief Goosen, Cink’s playing partner, who faced a birdie putt from 10 feet, knowing that a two-putt would earn him the victory. He charged it a bit too hard, running it two feet by. And then, incomprehensibly, he missed the comebacker. Goosen managed to capture the trophy with a 70–72 playoff win over Brooks, but that result is fully overshadowed by the specter of the worst putting sequence in U.S. Open history.

6. D.J. soars to a bloated 82 in a Pebble Beach collapse (2010)

Entering the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, smart money was on Dustin Johnson to capture his first major. He not only had the talent, but he had captured back-to-back AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am titles in 2009 and 2010. His first three rounds didn’t disappoint, as scores of 71–70–66 staked him to a three-shot lead over Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell. However, pressure locked DJ in a chokehold in the final round. He triple-bogeyed the par-four 2nd hole, double-bogeyed the par-four 3rd hole, and little went right thereafter. Johnson plummeted to an eighth-place tie, thanks to a final-round 82. He would wait six years before finally snaring an elusive U.S. Open.

5. Monty’s miscue costs him a major (2006)

One of Europe’s greatest players, Colin Montgomerie, arrived at the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot within reach of earning at least a playoff berth in his pursuit of his first major championship. Monty actually found himself tied for the lead after holing a 75-foot putt at the 71st hole and then seemingly seized the day with a perfect drive on the 18th. After a long wait, one of the game’s best iron strikers fanned his 7-iron approach from 172 yards into deep rough to the right of the green. He hacked out—but only to 40 feet. Though others were still on the course, Montgomerie could well have won the U.S. Open with a par—and ultimately would have made a playoff by two-putting. Instead, he ran his first putt 10 feet by, then missed the comebacker. His double-bogey six—from the middle of the fairway—left him one shot shy of a playoff. Montgomerie never would win a major championship.

4. “Two-Chip” Chen goes from record-breaker to scorecard-wrecker (1985)

Following the first double eagle in U.S. Open history during the first round in 1985, Taiwan’s T.C. Chen was seemingly in command at Oakland Hills. After 36 holes, and again after 54 holes, he established U.S. Open low scoring records. It all unraveled in rainy round four. At the par-four 5th hole, while lodged in dense greenside rough, Chen’s club got tangled in the grass and he double-hit his escape effort. He was assessed a one-stroke penalty for the double-hit, and then three-putted for a quadruple-bogey eight. Understandably unnerved, he went on to bogey the next three holes and lose to Andy North by one shot. Chen’s mournful assessment of what happened at the 5th: “I make double-par.”

3. Arnie makes history—of the wrong kind (1966)

The King seemed certain of another coronation in 1966, but he suffered an epic stumble on the way to being crowned. Arnold Palmer, winner of the U.S. Open in 1960, took a three-shot lead into the final round at the Olympic Club’s Lake course. After nine holes on Sunday, he had stretched his margin to seven. Arnie could have coasted, but instead he pressed, trying to break Ben Hogan’s all-time U.S. Open low scoring mark of 276. His quest for additional heroics ended in a record-breaking failure. Palmer bogeyed 10, 13, 15, 16, and 17 to post a back-nine 39 and was caught by Billy Casper. In the 18-hole playoff the next day, Palmer led by two after eight holes, but Casper blitzed him again, scoring 69 to Arnie’s 73.

2. Sam Snead self-immolates with a final-hole snowman (1939)

At Philadelphia Country Club in 1939, Slammin’ Sam Snead needed just two pars on the last two holes for a 282 total, two shots ahead of Byron Nelson, who had already finished play. After Snead missed a five-foot putt to bogey the 17th, he still just needed par to tie Nelson, but in the days before scoreboards, Snead didn’t realize that. He thought he required a birdie on the par-five closing hole to tie. So, he forced a drive, which hooked into the rough, bungled his 2-wood second into a plugged lie in a bunker 100 yards short of the green, and finally hacked his way onto the green in five, where he three-putted for a triple-bogey eight. Crushed, Snead would never win a U.S. Open.

1. Phil Mickelson’s self-proclaimed idiotic collapse (2006)

Gunning for his third consecutive major championship and his first U.S. Open win, Phil Mickelson had the gift box wrapped in 2006. All he needed was to tie the bow. Lefty shared the third-round lead and arrived at the par-four 72nd hole at Winged Foot’s vaunted West course one shot clear of the field. A par would win and a bogey would tie. He made neither. Having only found two fairways all day, Mickelson nonetheless hit driver—and sliced it way left, in the vicinity of a hospitality tent. Eschewing the safe chip back into the fairway, Phil tried to slice a 3-iron onto the green, but his effort plunked a tree and dropped 25 yards in front of him. His third shot plugged in a greenside bunker. He blasted out—and found the rough. A fifth shot left him 10 feet from the cup, from where he putted in for double bogey, handing Geoff Ogilvy a one-shot win. Mickelson summed up his nightmarish sequence succinctly and accurately: “I am such an idiot.”

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