The 5 biggest PGA Championship comebacks after 54 holes by a winner

Payne Stewart
PGA of America Archive
Payne Stewart trailed by six shots going into the final round of the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes before winning his first of three majors.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, September 11, 2017 | 3:06 p.m.

There's nothing sweeter than winning a major championship.

It's the ultimate achievement in golf and puts a player's name alongside the greats forever.

What's better than that?

RELATED: The biggest comebacks on Tour this season | Ryder Cup comebacks

Well, how about overcoming a significant deficit on the day to snag that major? On five occasions in PGA Championship history, the eventual champion was able to come back on the final day from a deficit of five strokes or more. Here are the five that did it, along with how they did it...

1. John Mahaffey in the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont Country Club

1978 PGA Championship Flashback with Announcer John Mahaffey - Golf Channel - 1st Rd of Sr PGA - 5-26-16 from PGA of America on Vimeo.

Typically when you think Oakmont and a major comeback, you think Johnny Miller in the 1973 U.S. Open when the Hall of Famer fired an incredible 8-under 63 to win from six strokes behind. While that is one of the most famous rounds in major history, believe it or not, it's not even the biggest final-day comeback at Oakmont.

That prestigious honor belongs to John Mahaffey.

Mahaffey started the final round of the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont sitting at 3 under, tied for fifth and seven strokes behind 54-hole leader Tom Watson. Through three rounds, Watson was actually five shots clear of Jerry Pate, who sat alone in second.

In the final round, Watson faltered with a 2-over 73. Mahaffey, meanwhile, carded a 5-under 66 to make up seven shots on Watson and tie for the lead after 72 holes at 8 under.

On the second hole of a sudden-death playoff, Mahaffey would win when he canned a 12-footer for birdie. It was his only major win and the closest Watson ever came to winning the one major that denied him a career grand slam.

For what it's worth, the biggest final-round comeback by a winner in major championship belongs to Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open Championship. The Scotsman came from 10 back and eventually downed Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff.

2. Bob Rosburg in the 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club

Affectionately known as "Rossie," Bob Rosburg had six wins in his PGA Tour career before becoming a color analyst for ABC. But at the 1959 PGA -- just the second year of stroke play at the PGA Championship, which had been match play through 1957 -- Rosburg was the story.

Through 54 holes, Rosburg was six strokes behind leader, Jerry Barber and in a tie for sixth. Rosburg had just five birdies through the first three rounds, but collected five in his first nine holes in the final round for an outward 30, a record nine at the time.

Rosburg would wind up with a 4-under 66, one stroke ahead of runners-up Barber and Doug Sanders.

3. Lanny Wadkins in the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach

Nine times in his career, Lanny Wadkins finished in the top-3 at major championships, including five times alone in the PGA Championship.

Among those five, was the only time Wadkins was victorious -- in 1977 at Pebble Beach.

Wadkins was in fourth-place after 54 holes, and six shots behind leader, Gene Littler.

But in the final round, the then 27-year-old Wadkins shot a 2-under 70, while Littler stumbled in at 4-over 76. That sent the pair to a playoff, which Wadkins won after holing a 5-footer for par.

The 1977 PGA Championship produced the first sudden-death playoff in a stroke-play major.

4. Payne Stewart in the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club

In the first of what would be three overall major championship wins for the late Payne Stewart, he did it in stunning fashion at the 1989 PGA Championship.

The colorful Stewart was in a tie for 11th place through 54 holes and trailed leader Mike Reid by six strokes.

Still trailing by five shots with three holes to go, Stewart would finish birdie-par-birdie in that stretch -- he had five birdies total on the back side for a closing 30 -- while Reid limped in on that same stretch going bogey-double bogey-par.

Stewart would win by one over Reid, Andy Bean and Curtis Strange.

5. Steve Elkington in the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera

No player shot a better final-round score in his respective comeback on this list than Australia's Steve Elkington.

Elk went into the final round at Riviera in 1995 six strokes off lead of Ernie Els and in a tie for fifth. But, in the final round, Elkington went around in a remarkable 7-under 64 to earn a spot in a playoff with Colin Montgomerie.

The playoff didn't last long.

Even after sitting around for a bit to learn his fate, Elkington remained red hot. He holed a 20-footer for birdie on No. 18, the first playoff hole, for his only major win.
 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.