Blog 342, 4/12/16 - Where does Danny Willett's 67 rank among the great closing rounds at the Masters?

You’ve read the title and are wondering if I’m going to say Danny Willett’s bogey-free 67 on Sunday was the greatest ever final round to win the Masters. Don’t be silly, of course it wasn’t. Only an Englishman with close ties to the Willett family, had shared a bath with Danny as a kid (did you see PJ Willett’s hilarious tweets as his brother neared the finish line?), and who’d never watched the Masters before this weekend would suggest such a thing.
Though the lowest closing 18 holes to win was Gary Player’s 64 in 1978, everyone knows the greatest final round that culminated in a Green Jacket was Jack Nicklaus’s 65 in 1986. 
It doesn’t matter how often you watch the DVD or Golf Channel re-runs, Nicklaus’s back nine 30, with Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, Nick Price, and Tom Watson (and to a lesser extent Jay Haas and Tommy Nakajima) filling up a pretty noteworthy leaderboard, is simply mesmerizing. The putts at the 10th and 11th, the approach shots to the 13th and 15th, the tee shot at the 16th, the putt at the 17th, the lag putt at the last – all sensational for a man who numerous writers, commentators, and other assorted experts had more or less written off, and all instantly identifiable for legions of golf fans who saw it happen (and probably thousands more who weren’t even born then, but whose fathers have told them all about it).
Willett’s round doesn’t come close to matching the significance and magnitude of Nicklaus’s. Willett hasn’t yet compiled the record Nicklaus had entering the ’86 Masters and, dare I say it, probably won’t. Nicklaus had 17 major championship victories in the bag already after all, and you’d need to speak with an awful lot of people before finding the man/woman who believed the Englishman will one day threaten something similar.
A popular question doing the rounds on social media the last couple of days has been ‘Did Danny Willett win the 2016 Masters, or did Jordan Spieth lose it?’ The answer, of course, is both.
Spieth would have won had fatigue, a swing fault, a millisecond’s complacency, and a fleeting memory of what happened there in 2014 when he dunked his tee shot while in pursuit of Bubba Watson, not all lined up at exactly the same moment. And Willett would not have won had he failed to convert his birdie putt at the 13th, not hit such a fine approach to the 14th, not stuck his approach at the 16th to five feet, not chipped so deftly at the 17th, and not played the 18th so impressively with an arrow-straight drive and approach shot that banked in off the right edge of the green so perfectly.
But where does Willett’s 67 rank among the great closing rounds at the Masters?


nicklaus 861) Jack Nicklaus 1986, 35-30 = 65
Let’s not waste anyone’s time discussing why this is the greatest closing round in the history of the game.

player 782) Gary Player 1978, 34-30 = 64
Forty-two-year-old Player, a two-time Masters winner and eight-time major champion, was tied for tenth when he entered the final round seven shots behind leader Hubert Green. He was certainly headed in the right direction after an outward two-under 34, but as he boarded the 10th tee, Player was still five back. As Nicklaus would do eight years later, however, Player lit it up on the back birdieing the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th before rolling in a downhill 15-footer for a three on the 18th.
The South African had to wait over 40 minutes for the final four groups to finish. Green came to the last at ten-under, one behind Player, but hit a superlative approach to about four feet. As he crouched over the birdie putt, however, a radio announcer distracted Green who backed off. When he eventually hit the putt, it slid right, and Player had won his third Masters by a stroke.

faldo 893) Nick Faldo 1989, 32-33 = 65
Tied for ninth, five shots off Ben Crenshaw’s lead, no one really gave the 31-year-old Englishman much of a chance heading into the final round in 1989. On a dismal, rainy Sunday, Faldo got off to the perfect start, however birdieing the difficult opening hole, then making a four at the 2nd. He then made birdies at the tough par 3 4th and similarly demanding par 4 7th. He was still three back of Scott Hoch, Seve Ballesteros, and Mike Reid, however, and when a bogey at the 11th took him four back his chance of winning his first Masters and second major, appeared to have gone. Birdies at the 13th and 14th got him back in the frame though, and when he curled in a tricky birdie putt at the 16th, then rammed home a long putt at the next, he was only one back of Hoch who then bogeyed the penultimate hole. Faldo parred the last for a 65 and five-under 283 total. Crenshaw and Greg Norman also came to the 18th at five-under, but bogeyed to drop back, while Hoch made a four to set up a sudden-death playoff with Faldo.
The 1987 Open Championship winner made a scrappy five at the first extra hole – the 10th, leaving Hoch with a two-footer for four and victory. He somehow managed to yank it left, however, and when Faldo made a 25-foot birdie putt at the second playoff hole, he was the Masters champion. 

goalby 684) Bob Goalby 1968, 33-33 = 66
No one ever talks about how good a round Goalby shot in 1968 to win his only major championship, and eighth of 11 PGA Tour wins because of the rules foul-up at the end of the round concerning Roberto De Vicenzo. The Argentinian, playing in the group ahead of Goalby, shot a 65 but signed for a 66 after his playing partner Tommy Aaron marked him down for a four at the 17th where he had, in fact, made a three. The 66 had to stand, and it left De Vicenzo on ten-under 278.
After birdies at the 5th, 6th, and 8th, Goalby turned in 33, then made two more birdies at the 13th and 14th. An eagle at the 15th took him to 12-under and the top of the leaderboard. But a bogey at the 17th bought him back to 11-under which is where he finished, seemingly tied with De Vicenzo.
Rules officials met in Bobby Jones’s cottage beside the 10th hole trying to figure out a loophole that would allow De Vicenzo to playoff against Goalby, but they couldn’t find one. Hord Hardin, President of the USGA and Chairman of the Masters rules committee, announced that Goalby was the winner by one.
It was a terribly distressing way to identify the champion, but there’s no denying the quality of Goalby’s final round.

schwartzel 20115) Charl Schwartzel 2011, 34-32 = 66
The South-African was tied for second after three rounds of the 2011 Masters, but surely had no chance of catching the leader – a rampant Rory McIlroy who, after rounds of 65, 69, and 70, stood four shots clear of the field. An amazing chip-in from well off the green at the 1st was a promising start for Schwartzel, however, and when he holed his second at the par 4 3rd, he was suddenly tied with the Northern Irishman who had bogeyed the 1st. After a bogey at the 4th and ten straight pars, Schwartzel arrived on the 15th tee at ten-under-par, one behind Adam Scott. Fortunately for the leaders, McIlroy was no longer a threat having played the 10th, 11th and 12th holes in a wild and ugly six-over-par (he’d also bogey the 15th to come home in 43). Schwartzel though was able to free himself from the frustrating run of pars, and made birdie at each of the last four holes to finish on 14-under 274 – two clear of Scott and his fellow Aussie Jason Day.

wall 596) Art Wall 1959, 34-32 = 66
Wall, from Pennsylvania, had won eight of his 14 PGA Tour titles when he arrived for the ’59 Masters. A tie for sixth the previous year would have given him some confidence ahead of the tournament, but opening rounds of 73 and 74 saw him head into the weekend six back of leader Arnold Palmer. A 71 in the third round, didn’t take him any closer to the top of the leaderboard, but birdies on the first two holes on Sunday brought him to within four. He played the next ten in one-over, but was only two back as Palmer was three-over for the day, and the other contenders were likewise faltering. However, when Wall went on a tear, birdieing five of the last six holes (the only par coming at the 16th) to finish on four-under 284 there was no catching him. Cary Middlecoff eagled the 15th to get to three-under-par, but it was too little too late.

ford 577) Doug Ford 1957, 34-32 = 66
1955 PGA Champion Doug Ford played the first 54 holes of the '57 Masters in one-over 217 to sit three shots behind leader Sam Snead on Saturday night. Snead, a three-time winner, and now 44 years old, was the obvious favorite despite being well into the second half of his illustrious career. On Sunday, Ford birdied the 1st and Snead bogeyed, cutting the deficit to just one. Snead toiled all day, making six birdies and six bogeys while Ford played the round of his life, matching Snead’s birdie count but making no bogeys. Holing out from the bunker to the right of the 18th green for a three was the icing on the cake.

faldo 968) Nick Faldo 1996, 34-33 = 67
Greg Norman may have had two Open Championships to his name at this stage of his career, but he could have won a slew of other major championships, including at least four Masters. After rounds of 63, 69, and 71, it looked like he would win his first Green Jacket at last as he stood six clear of second-placed Nick Faldo with just 18 holes to go.
Faldo was the Australian’s nemesis, however. At the 1990 Open Championship at St Andrews, the pair were tied on 12-under 132 after 36 holes, but in the third round Faldo beat Norman by nine. It was indicative of a rivalry in which Norman rarely came out on top.
So it was in ’96 at Augusta National where Norman blew his lead with a disaster-strewn 78 while Faldo plodded his methodical, disciplined way to a superb, but largely overlooked, 67 that gave him a five-shot win over the hapless Aussie.

willett 20169) Danny Willett 2016, 34-33 = 67
Willett was only three back of 54-hole leader Jordan Spieth at the beginning of the round but, like the rest of the world, was surely expecting the world number two and defending champion to repel all advances. Five clear at the turn, Spieth’s second title was all but assured, and even bogeys at the 10th and 11th did little to convince anyone he could be caught. Two horrid water balls at the notoriously tricky par 3 12th saw the seemingly watertight champion lose control, however. He walked off the 12th green just one-under-par having begun the hole at five-under. Willett, who had played the front nine in two-under 34 with birdies at the 6th and 8th, now had the lead and, after birdieing the 13th, he added further birdies at the 14th and 16th to reach five-under-par. An incredible chip shot at the 17th saved his par, and an easy-looking four at the last gave him his 67, and a 72-hole total of 283. The Englishman had played the final 12 holes in five-under, and his bogey-free round gave him a three-shot win over Spieth and Lee Westwood.

mickelson 201010) Phil Mickelson 2010, 35-32 = 67
Going for his third Green Jacket, Mickelson began the final round in 2010 a shot behind Lee Westwood, but drew level after the Englishman bogeyed the 1st. The left-hander, winner in 2004 and 2006, parred the first seven holes before finally making a birdie at the par 5 8th. Six pars and four birdies from there to the house, including a four at the par 5 13th where his incredible 6-iron approach off the pine straw to the right of the fairway flew between two pine trees and dropped to the green about six feet from the hole, saw Mickelson complete a bogey-free 67, and three-shot victory over Westwood.

jackie burke10) Jackie Burke 1956, 35-36 = 71
Yes, two tied for tenth, and yes a seemingly decent, but hardly spectacular, one-under 71. But context is everything.
The 1956 edition was one of those Masters people remember for virtually everything but the winner. This was the last time stragglers would not be cut after 36 holes, and it was the first year CBS aired the third and fourth rounds. More significant by far though, was the sensational play of amateur Ken Venturi who opened with a six-under 66 and led by four shots heading into the final round.
Conditions that Sunday were perhaps even tougher than those we saw during the first three rounds of this year's Masters, however. Strong winds and rain made it the toughest day the event had seen to that point, according to club and tournament co-founder Bobby Jones. The average score for the top 50 finishers was 76.86, and only two players broke par - Sam Snead and Jack Burke Jr who both shot 71.
Burke began the round eight shots behind Venturi, but played steady golf to the turn, birdieing the 2nd and parring the other eight holes for an outward 35. He then made two birdies (12th and 17th) and two bogeys (11th and 14th) for a back nine 36. Venturi, meanwhile, struggled terribly, three-putting six times and coming home in six-over 42 for a round of 80 - one of 29 rounds of 80 or higher that day. He would finish in solo second, just one stroke behind Burke whose superb final 18 was made all the more remarkable by his lack of preparation - by the time the Texan got to the course after attending church, he had just 15 miniutes to prepare.
It was the first of Burke's two major championship victories (he also won the PGA Championship in '56), and 11th of 16 tour wins.

Honorable mention: Sam Snead (1949), Gay Brewer (1967), Tom Watson (1977).

(Thanks to Jeff Neuman, editor of the Met Golfer, for convincing me Burke's closing 71 in 1956 was worthy of a place on the list).


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