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Biggest comeback wins in golf major history

  • Biggest comeback wins in golf major history
    1/ Tony Bowler // Shutterstock

    Biggest comeback wins in golf major history

    Golf is much more than a hobby, especially for those who earn a living at it. Golf has transformed into a huge business where professionals work tirelessly to improve their skills hoping to earn championship titles and the millions in prize money that accompanies winning a tournament. But in golf, even the minutest of movements can affect a score, for the better or worse. One bad putt coupled with an amazing 40-footer from a competitor can be enough to lose a competition.

    That's why any golfer who walks on the green needs to be in the right mindset to win. As history has shown, a bad mindset could cost a competitor dearly. Or, if a golfer has too cocky a mindset, thinking they have it in the bag before the 18th hole, a single off-target swing could end their championship dreams.

    Because of these circumstances and others, since the 1970s, there have been some unbelievable comebacks to win PGA tour events. Using data pulled from the PGA, Stacker has put together a list of the biggest comeback wins in golf history. These comebacks are from every major event from 1970 through 2019 PGA Championship. The golfers were ranked by the biggest deficit after the third round, and if there were any ties, then preference was given to the most recent tournament.

    Keep reading to see if your favorite golfer made this list and had a historic comeback win.

    You may also like: Best golf course in every state

  • #25. Masters 1986
    2/ Stephen Munday // Getty Images

    #25. Masters 1986

    - Winner: Jack Nicklaus ($144,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Greg Norman

    At the 1986 Masters, Jack Nicklaus was behind leader Greg Norman as they entered the final round. After Nicklaus putted for eight pars, he needed to make an aggressive move to take the lead. That's when Nicklaus shot 6-under on the back nine to win by one stroke.

  • #24. PGA Championship 1986
    3/ ABC

    #24. PGA Championship 1986

    - Winner: Bob Tway ($140,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Greg Norman

    Many believed that Greg Norman would win the 1986 PGA Championship when he was in the lead going into the final round. But with heavy rains that made them stop and postpone the final round, Bob Tway received the reprieve he needed to get back into the right mindset. When play resumed, Norman made a few mistakes and Tway caught fire with eight birdies to close the gap and win.

  • #23. U.S. Open 1990
    4/ Stephen Munday // Getty Images

    #23. U.S. Open 1990

    - Winner: Hale Irwin ($220,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leaders after 3rd round: Mike Donald, Billy Ray Brown

    During the 1990 U.S. Open, Mike Donald and Billy Ray Brown sat atop the leaderboard after the 3rd round, but seemingly out of nowhere, Hale Irwin hit a string of amazing putts that tied him with the leaders. Irwin and Donald went to an 18-hole playoff and when they were still tied after that round, Irwin birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win.

  • #22. The Open 1995
    5/ Mitch Gunn // Shutterstock

    #22. The Open 1995

    - Winner: John Daly ($199,375 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Michael Campbell

    The 1995 British Open was John Daly's last major championship. Trailing Michael Campbell after the 3rd round, Daly came back from a four-stroke deficit to force a four-hole playoff and stave off Costantino Rocca.

  • #21. U.S. Open 2005
    6/ Mitch Gunn // Shutterstock

    #21. U.S. Open 2005

    - Winner: Michael Campbell ($1,170,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Retief Goosen

    Retief Goosen took a three-shot lead over the field at the end of the 3rd round into the final day of the 2005 U.S. Open. But Michael Campbell was able to erase a four-shot deficit, playing steady golf while the rest of the leaderboard imploded with bogeys galore.

  • #20. U.S. Open 2007
    7/ Isogood_patrick // Shutterstock

    #20. U.S. Open 2007

    - Winner: Angel Cabrera ($1,260,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Aaron Baddeley

    Angel Cabrera not only made history with a comeback after the 3rd round, he also became the first Argentinian to win the U.S. Open. Both Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods could have forced a playoff on the final hole, but missed birdie attempts, giving Cabrera the victory.

  • #19. PGA Championship 2010
    8/ Isogood_patrick // Shutterstock

    #19. PGA Championship 2010

    - Winner: Martin Kaymer ($1,350,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Nick Watney

    Martin Kaymer won his first major title in the 2010 PGA Championship. Nick Watney, the 3rd-round leader, infamously hit a ball into the water on the seventh hole, that led to a triple bogey and his downfall. Kaymer then withstood Bubba Watson's charge in a three-hole playoff.

  • #18. Masters 2011
    9/ pvt Pauline // Wikimedia Commons

    #18. Masters 2011

    - Winner: Charl Schwartzel ($1,440,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Rory McIlroy

    Rory McIlroy was the leader going into the final round of the 2011 Masters. But Charl Schwartzel started the final day with a birdie, then an eagle two holes later, propelling him toward the top of the leaderboard. On the final four holes, he pushed ahead of the field with four birdies.

  • #17. U.S. Open 2012
    10/ David W. Leindecker // Shutterstock

    #17. U.S. Open 2012

    - Winner: Webb Simpson ($1,440,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leaders after 3rd round: Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk

    Webb Simpson won his first career major title by one shot in the 2012 U.S. Open. Though Simpson started out behind, he gained the inspiration he needed by watching a video from his son, James, and was able to top Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk over the final holes.

  • #16. U.S. Open 2016
    11/ Tony Bowler // Shutterstock

    #16. U.S. Open 2016

    - Winner: Dustin Johnson ($1,800,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 4
    - Leader after 3rd round: Shane Lowry

    Overcoming heavy rains and a controversial penalty stroke on the fifth hole, Dustin Johnson used those obstacles as motivation to come back and win the 2012 U.S. Open. So determined was Johnson that he stormed ahead of the field and topped the next-closest competitors by three shots.

  • #15. Masters 1989
    12/ Stephen Munday // Getty Images

    #15. Masters 1989

    - Winner: Nick Faldo ($200,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 5
    - Leader after 3rd round: Ben Crenshaw

    After shooting a 77 in the 3rd round, Nick Faldo completely flipped the script and shot a 65 on the final day of the 1989 Masters. That round was good enough to overtake Ben Crenshaw and Greg Norman, who both missed putts on 18 to force a playoff. Faldo became the first player from England to wear the historic green jacket.

  • #14. The Open 1997
    13/ Christopher Halloran // Shutterstock

    #14. The Open 1997

    - Winner: Justin Leonard ($418,875 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 5
    - Leader after 3rd round: Jesper Parnevik

    When Justin Leonard was down five strokes to frontrunner Jesper Parnevik, he had to perform almost perfectly to gain the lead. Leonard did just that, hitting six birdies to capture the lead, and he went on to win the 1997 British Open by three strokes.

  • #13. U.S. Open 1998
    14/ Jim Eppler // Wikimedia Commons

    #13. U.S. Open 1998

    - Winner: Lee Janzen ($535,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 5
    - Leader after 3rd round: Payne Stewart

    After Payne Stewart led the first three rounds of the 1998 U.S. Open, many thought the title was his. But little did he know that Lee Janzen would storm back from seven strokes down to take the U.S. Open by one stroke.

  • #12. The Open 2013
    15/ Isogood_patrick // Shutterstock

    #12. The Open 2013

    - Winner: Phil Mickelson ($1,442,826 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 5
    - Leader after 3rd round: Lee Westwood

    Phil Mickelson often took too many risks in the past, but he learned his lesson to take a simple approach to the 2013 Open. Mickelson was five shots behind Lee Westwood, but steadily chipped away with pars and birdies to come back and win by three strokes as the rest of the field around him collapsed.

  • #11. U.S. Open 1973
    16/ Kirk Geisler // Shutterstock

    #11. U.S. Open 1973

    - Winner: Johnny Miller ($35,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leaders after 3rd round: Arnold Palmer, John Schlee, Jerry Heard, Julius Boros

    After being tied with Arnold Palmer for the first two rounds of the 1973 U.S. Open, Johnny Miller fell behind four golfers as they entered the final round. But Miller hit nine birdies to catch up and eventually break from the pack, earning him the U.S. Open title.

  • #10. PGA Championship 1977
    17/ ABC

    #10. PGA Championship 1977

    - Winner: Lanny Wadkins ($45,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Gene Littler

    During the 1977 PGA Championship, Gene Littler held the lead for the first three rounds of the championship, but could not hold on. Lanny Wadkins forced the first sudden-death playoff in a major. Tied after the first two holes, Wadkins birdied the third to win his only major title.

  • #9. Masters 1979
    18/ CBS Sports

    #9. Masters 1979

    - Winner: Fuzzy Zoeller ($50,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Ed Sneed

    No one thought first-time participant Fuzzy Zoeller would have what it takes to win the 1979 Masters. But the flamboyant and brash Zoeller forced a playoff and birdied the second hole for his only Masters title.

  • #8. PGA Championship 1989
    19/ Keith Allison // Flickr

    #8. PGA Championship 1989

    - Winner: Payne Stewart ($200,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Mike Reid

    In the 1989 PGA Championship, Mike Reid went into the final round in the lead, but Payne Stewart ended up birdieing four of the five final holes to stay in contention. Reid then misplayed a greenside chip shot, leading Stewart to surge past him for his first major title.

  • #7. PGA Championship 1995
    20/ Jeff Schultes // Shutterstock

    #7. PGA Championship 1995

    - Winner: Steve Elkington ($360,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Ernie Els

    During the 1995 PGA Championship, Ernie Els was in the lead going into the final round. But it was with Steve Elkington's consecutive birdies and rhythmic golf swings that sent him and Colin Montgomerie into a playoff, which Elkington won on the first hole with a birdie.

  • #6. Masters 1996
    21/ Mitch Gunn // Shutterstock

    #6. Masters 1996

    - Winner: Nick Faldo ($450,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Greg Norman

    The 1996 Masters was one for the history books when Greg Norman had an epic collapse in the final round. As Norman faltered, Nick Faldo came through with near flawless golf, erasing a six-stroke deficit and winning by an astonishing five strokes over Norman.

  • #5. The Open 2007
    22/ David W. Leindecker // Shutterstock

    #5. The Open 2007

    - Winner: Padraig Harrington ($1,542,450 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Sergio Garcia

    When Sergio Garcia struggled over the last couple of holes in the final round of the 2007 Open, it was the opportunity that Padraig Harrington needed to enter contention. Four birdies and an eagle by Harrington sent him into a playoff with Garcia, and when Garcia bogeyed, a Harrington birdie led him to become the first Irishman to win The Open in 60 years.

  • #4. The Open 2012
    23/ Hafiz Johari // Shutterstock

    #4. The Open 2012

    - Winner: Ernie Els ($1,405,890 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 6
    - Leader after 3rd round: Adam Scott

    Ernie Els was six strokes back entering the last day of the tourney, but a final round 68 put him on the cusp of winning. Adam Scott, the leader after day three, bogeyed the final four holes and Els won The Open by one stroke.

  • #3. Masters 1978
    24/ Lady 11390 // Wikimedia Commons

    #3. Masters 1978

    - Winner: Gary Player ($45,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 7
    - Leader after 3rd round: Hubert Green

    Gary Player won his third Masters when he beat out Hubert Green in the 1978 Masters. When Green started the final round, he was in the lead until Player birdied seven of the final 10 holes.

  • #2. PGA Championship 1978
    25/ ABC

    #2. PGA Championship 1978

    - Winner: John Mahaffey ($50,000 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 7
    - Leader after 3rd round: Tom Watson

    In the 1978 PGA Championship, leader Tom Watson started to falter, opening a lane for John Mahaffey. At the end of the final round, Mahaffey was tied with Watson and Jerry Pate, whom he ended up beating in a sudden-death playoff.

  • #1. The Open 1999
    26/ Mitch Gunn // Shutterstock

    #1. The Open 1999

    - Winner: Paul Lawrie ($546,805 prize)
    - Strokes back after 3rd round: 10
    - Leader after 3rd round: Jean Van de Velde

    In the 1999 British Open, Paul Lawrie had the largest comeback in golf major history, as Jean van de Velde could not hold on to a 10-stroke lead. When Lawrie forced a sudden-death playoff, van de Velde landed in the rough, whereas Lawrie birdied out and won the championship.

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