9 of the greatest upsets in golf history

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
9 of the greatest upsets in golf history

Everybody loves an underdog, right? Or, maybe you like, or dislike, when something that was supposed to happen in a golf tournament doesn't. Golf can be so unpredictable, even for those at the highest level of ability.

But what's the greatest upset in golf history?

Here's a look at some of the all-time great upsets, along with comments by our friends in Facebook Nation:

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9. Stewart Cink defeats Tom Watson in 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. In this particular, "upset," scenario I think our Facebook friends meant, "angry." And, boy is it hard to get angry with Cink, one of the finest gentleman you'll find on the PGA Tour. Aside from Cink's caddie and family, it seemed as though everyone in the world of golf was pulling hard for Watson -- at the age of 59 -- to snag his sixth Open that week. As it turned out, Watson wasn't able to pull it off. He missed a short putt on the 72nd hole and headed to a playoff with Cink. From there, Cink dominated. Watson and Cink were all class through the whole situation. Cink even joked something to the effect of, "Do I feel bad for Tom Watson? No way! He's won this five times! This is my first!"

Facebook fan quotes:

"Stewart Cink over Tom Watson? Not really an upset, but I still wake up wondering how Watson didn't win his sixth Open." -- Brent Davis

"Tom Watson in the British Open a few years back missing that important putt to seal the deal." -- Tyler Sala K

"Cink over Watson in the Open. I was so sad for Watson. I think even Cink felt ever so guilty that he won." -- Cynthia Cronk

8. U.S. victory over Europe in the 1999 Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Going into the 33rd edition of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. -- as had been the case until recently -- were the heavy favorites on paper. But, through the first two days of competition, the Europeans were dominate and took a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 lead into Sunday's singles (meaning the Europeans needed to win only four of a possible 12 points on Sunday to retain the Ryder Cup).

Despite the huge deficit, U.S. Captain Ben Crenshaw famously said on the eve of the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history: "I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about tomorrow. That's all I'm gonna say."

Crenshaw's good feeling panned out. His team won the first six matches in the singles to swing the momentum in favor of the Americans and, at the end, Justin Leonard nailed a 40-foot putt on the 17th hole on Jose Maria Olazabal to assure the decisive half-point the U.S. needed to win the Ryder Cup back.

Facebook fan quotes:

"U.S. over Europe at the '99 Ryder Cup." -- Kenny Dryden

"Leonard over Olazabal in the '99 Ryder Cup." -- James Lawrence

7. Charl Schwartzel at the 2011 Masters. What Schwartzel accomplished at Augusta National in 2011 won't be fully appreciated for some time and that just isn't fair. The South African did something that no Masters champion has ever done on his way to slipping into that Green Jacket -- he ended the tournament with four consecutive birdies. Making the win all the more special was the fact that Schwartzel pulled it off on the 50th anniversary of his countryman, Gary Player, winning the first of his three Masters Tournaments in 1961. Player was the first South African and first international competitor to win the Masters.

Facebook fan quote:

"Schwartzel pulling from behind and upsetting the field at 2011 Masters." -- Bryan Boyer

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6. Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters. Whenever I think of Jack Nicklaus and winning, the word, "upset," never crosses my mind. This is, after all, the most prolific major champion in the game's history. However, you can make a case for the 1986 Masters. At 46 years old, Nicklaus was well into the back nine of his Tour career. He had nothing to prove at Augusta National, a place where he was already a five-time winner. Nobody knows Augusta National the way the Golden Bear does. Nicklaus shot an amazing 7-under 65 in the final round, which included a back-nine 30, for a two-shot victory over Seve Ballesteros.

Facebook fan quotes:

"Nicklaus at the '86 Masters. At his age, with his game at the time." -- Adam Jacobs

"The Golden Bear at Augusta in '86 was amazing as in "goose bumps!" -- Diana Miles

5. Jack Fleck wins the 1955 U.S. Open. It was an ugly start to the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic Club for Fleck. After the first round, he trailed leader Tommy Bolt by nine shots. Of the top-10 finishers that week, there were only six rounds in the 60s. Fleck had two of them -- a 69 in the second round and a 67 in the final round. That final-round 67 was good enough to get him into a playoff with his idol, Ben Hogan.

In the 18-hole Monday playoff, Fleck ousted his idol with an impressive 69 to Hogan's 72 to complete the largest deficit ever overcome by a U.S. Open winner.

Facebook fan quotes:

"Jack Fleck defeating Ben Hogan in 1955 U.S. Open." -- Brandon Rincon

"Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan. Of course, Ouimet beating Vardon and Ray. Nicklaus beating Palmer at Oakmont, this one really 'upset' quite a few people." -- Darrell Hovinen

"Fleck vs. Hogan." -- Luke Walker

4. Nick Faldo defeats Greg Norman at 1996 Masters. I don't know about you, but this was definitely the hardest tournament Sunday I've ever watched. Norman, a two-time major winner, looked like he was finally on his way to the one major he was obsessed with throughout his career, the Masters. The Shark entered the final round with an amazing six-shot advantage over two-time Masters champ, Nick Faldo. By the 11th hole, thanks to Faldo's stellar play and Norman's crumbling, that six-shot advantage was gone. Faldo wound up with a 5-under 67, while Norman painfully signed for a 6-over 78. A sad day for Norman indeed.

Facebook fan quotes:

"Faldo beating Norman... biggest meltdown." -- Lee Schmidthuber

"Faldo catches deflated Norman, '96 Masters." -- Dan Williams

"Norman's meltdown at the Masters." -- Mike Hall

3. Y.E. Yang defeats Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. A Tiger Woods victory at the 2009 PGA Championship seemed like a forgone conclusion. He entered the final round with a two-shot lead over Padraig Harrington and little-known Y.E. Yang. Previously, Woods had never surrendered a 54-hole lead in a major championship. However, on that August Sunday in Chaska, Minn., the putter betrayed Tiger and Yang just wouldn't go away. With a chip-in eagle at the par-4 14th, Yang took a lead he would never relinquish. The South Korean put the final touch on his masterpiece with a gorgeous 210-yard approach shot at the final hole that stopped within 10 feet of the hole to set up a birdie to finish in style and became the first Asian-born player to win a major.

Facebook fan quotes:

"Definitely Y.E. Yang over Tiger -- the first time Tiger had ever lost having the 54-hole lead. It's gotta be the biggest upset." -- Luke Boshart

"Y.E. over Tiger." -- Tj Aulger

"Y.E. Yang over Tiger a few years ago in the PGA!" -- Brian Wetzel

"Y.E. Yang Beats Tiger at the PGA." -- Thomas Sims

"Y.E. Yang beating Tiger at the '09 PGA made me cry." -- Phillip Green

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2. Larry Mize defeats Greg Norman at the 1987 Masters. Ask any player on Tour and he'll tell you: the most difficult tournament to win -- aside from a major championship -- is the one played in your home town. Well, what if the tournament that's played in your home town just so happens to be a major? That's always been the case for Mize, an Augusta native, at the Masters. After 72 holes, Mize found himself in a sudden-death playoff with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. Clearly, Mize was the underdog in that threesome. However, it became clear, that Mize was destined for this victory. Ballesteros was eliminated on the first playoff hole and then, on the par-4 11th, the second playoff hole, Mize ended the playoff. From the fairway, 140 feet from the hole, Mize hit the shot of a lifetime, chipping in for birdie and the victory. It was one of many bad breaks at the Masters for Norman.


Facebook fan quotes:

"I like Mize over Norman at the '87 Masters. Being an Augusta native, Mize miraculously wins in his hometown and the Green Jacket once again eludes The Shark." -- Jason Newsome

"Mize over Norman. What a shocker. I nearly fell off the couch." -- Sharon Baker Shuford Rupp

"Mize over Norman wasn't an upset it was a fluke!" -- Michael Ball

"Larry Mize beating Greg Norman." -- Keith Ross

"Masters Mize hole out from fairway over Norman." -- Jim Duffy

1. Francis Ouimet wins the 1913 U.S. Open. I love it when we compile these lists and there's a hands-down No. 1. In this case, just about everyone agreed, there has been no bigger upset in golf than when 20-year-old Francis Ouimet -- an amateur -- defeated two of the game's brightest stars at the time, Britons Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18-hole playoff to capture the U.S. Open on his home course, the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Ouimet became known as the, "father of amateur golf," in the United States.

Facebook fan quotes:

"I've had the pleasure of caddying at The Country Club where this took place. They talk about this day before every event that takes place there. Tons of history on that golf course." -- Shaun Fyfe 

"1913 U.S. Open nothing else compares." -- Brian Raben

"Francis Ouimet may just be the greatest upset in any sport." -- Brent Davis

"Francis Ouimet." -- Victor Ford

"Greatest upset... Ouimet. Greatest round that upset me? Norman. Augusta. '96." -- Branden Lane

"Francis Ouimet and it is not even close for second!" -- Michael Maddalena