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PHOTOS: The 10 greatest U.S. Open moments of all time

June 12, 2019

Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable finishes in U.S. Open history, including Payne Stewart’s dramatic win at Pinehurst in 1999, Tiger’s triumph at Torrey and more.

Walter Iooss Jr./SI

Lee Trevino at Merion, 1971

Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, the two best players at the time, finished regulation tied for the lead. On the 1st tee in the playoff, Trevino remembered that his daughter had left a rubber snake in his bag, so he pulled it out and tossed it in Nicklaus’s direction. Nicklaus chuckled, but Trevino had the last laugh. He shot a two-under 68 to beat Nicklaus by three shots. Over the next three weeks Trevino would add the Canadian and British Open trophies to his mantel.

John G. Zimmerman/SI

Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills, 1960

Legends from three generations (Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus) were among the horde of luminaries who battled over the final 36 holes, which were all played on Saturday. (The Open didn’t go to an 18-hole Sunday finish until 1965.) Seven shots back, Palmer stole the show in the final round, which began with his driving the green at the 313-yard par-4 1st and culminated with a back-nine 30. Arnie fired a six-under 65 in the final round for a two-shot victory over Nicklaus.

Robert Beck/SI

Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines, 2008

Tiger Woods has won tournaments in myriad ways, but this was perhaps his most courageous performance. Woods limped around Torrey on a bad left knee and winced in pain after almost every shot. What no one knew was that he also played with a double stress fracture of the tibia in his left leg. On the 72nd hole Woods made a bending 12-foot birdie putt to tie Rocco Mediate. Then he won on the 19th hole of a Monday playoff. Two days later, Woods had ACL surgery on his knee.

Philadelphia Inquirer/AP

Ben Hogan at Merion, 1950

Just 16 months after a nearly fatal accident, in which his car collided head-on with a bus, Ben Hogan was back. Playing with his legs heavily wrapped, Hogan stripped the most famous one-iron in history to set up a two-putt par at 18 in regulation; then he won an 18-hole playoff against George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum, helped along when Mangrum picked up his ball on the 16th hole to blow a bug off it, for which he was assessed a two-shot penalty.

James Drake/SI

Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach, 2000

Tiger Woods was already on track for the Hall of Fame at age 24, having won two majors and 17 other tour titles. But his dominating victory at Pebble Beach proved that Woods might be the greatest player in history as he set or tied a slew of Open records, including margin of victory (15 strokes), low 72-hole score (272) and most strokes under par (12). Woods would follow with victories at the British Open and the PGA, and he took the 2001 Masters to become the only player to win four majors in a row.

James Drake/SI

Johnny Miller at Oakmont, 1973

Entering the final round six shots back and trailing a dozen other golfers, Johnny Miller played arguably the greatest final round in major championship history. He birdied the first four holes, added five more birdies, made only one bogey and hit every green in regulation shooting a U.S. Open-record 63 (eight under par) to win by one over John Schlee. Only four players broke 70 that day, and Arnold Palmer, tied for the lead with Miller on the back nine, was denied victory in front of his home fans. Palmer finished three back, tied for fourth with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

Richard Mackson/SI

Tom Watson at Pebble Beach, 1982

Jack Nicklaus was tied for the lead at four under par and watching on TV in the scoring tent as Tom Watson yanked a two-iron into the left rough at the par-3 17th. Most observers, including Nicklaus, thought bogey was likely, but in reply to caddie Bruce Edwards’ comment that his man could save par, Watson predicted that he was going to hole the 16-foot shot. Then he did just that, pointing to Edwards as he raced around the green in celebration. For good measure, Watson also birdied the last to win by two.

Payne Stewart celebrating his U.S. Open-winning putt in 1999.
Payne Stewart celebrating his U.S. Open-winning putt in 1999.
Sports Illustrated/Robert Beck

Payne Stewart at Pinehurst, 1999

In the first U.S. Open at historic Pinehurst, Payne Stewart, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods staged an epic battle over the final nine holes. At the 445-yard par-4 18th, Stewart, leading Mickelson by one, laid up after driving into the right rough, then hit a nine-iron to 15 feet. Using a putting tip that his wife, Tracy, had given him on Saturday night, Stewart earned his second Open title by draining the par putt. Four months later Stewart would die in a plane crash. He was 42.

Fred Vuich/SI

Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot, 2006

Standing on the par-4 18th tee in the final round, Phil Mickelson led by one and was on the verge of winning his third consecutive major. But then he suffered one of the most ignominious meltdowns in Open history: a push-slice drive bounced off a corporate tent; a cut three-iron banged off the trunk of a tree and rolled back to his feet; another cut iron shot plugged in a greenside bunker. Mickelson made double bogey and finished a shot behind Geoff Ogilvy. “I am such an idiot,” said Mickelson.

Courtesy of Boston Public Library - Print Department

Francis Ouimet at the Country Club, 1913

Good luck selling this script to Hollywood: Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur and caddie from the host course, played remarkable golf with 10-year-old Eddie Lowery on his bag. Oiumet shocked the golf world by winning the title in an 18-hole playoff over two of the game’s kingpins, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon.

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