Top 5 U.S. Opens of Modern Era

/20/99 Pinehurst, North Carolina. Payne Stewart Of The Usa Celebrates Winning The1999 Us Open Championship Played At Pinehurst Resort And Golf Club, Pinehurst, North Carolina, Usa. (Photo By David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

Erin Hills, a course outside of Milwaukee, hosts its first U.S. Open later this week as it receives rave reviews during the practice rounds. Its wide fairways and perfect putting greens figures to catalyze some low scoring and exciting golf.

Breitbart Sports covers the tournament live all week. Let’s look back before we look forward.

Winged Foot, 2006
Forever known for Phil Mickelson’s “I’m such an idiot” meltdown on the 18th hole, this championship witnessed numerous other choke jobs which made for great viewing. Geoff Ogilvy benefitted from of all this gagging late Sunday as he held his nerve and won his only major championship.

Kenneth Ferrie, a relatively unknown player from England, shared the lead to start the final day, but as expected, fell apart on the back nine to finish out of the top five. Jim Furyk bogey putted on the 18th hole. He took an absolute eternity, looking at a very makeable putt from every conceivable angle. He hit it just a bit outside and had to settle for second place. Padraig Harrington enjoyed a chance to win until he bogeyed the final three holes. Harrington must have learned something though, because he would go on to win three of the next 10 majors.

Colin Montgomerie sat in the middle of the fairway on the final hole needing only par to win the tournament. He is known as an excellent iron player so making par was like a layup for him. Instead he hit a weak shot that led Johnny Miller, broadcasting for NBC, to explain, “Colin Montgomerie hasn’t hit a seven iron that bad in 20 years.” Still, at worst, he could chip onto the green and two putt for a tie and playoff the next day. Instead he gouges it out way past the hole leaving himself a tricky downhiller. Three putts later he was heading home with another major disappointment.

Phil Mickelson came to the 18th tee needing only par to win and a bogey would put him in a playoff with clubhouse leader Geoff Ogilvy. His mistakes started on the tee when he chose to hit a driver instead of a sensible four iron. He went way left but got lucky when it bounced back into a decent position. The next mistake was trying to get it onto the green instead of playing back out into the fairway. His shot got caught up in the trees and bounced back at him. His next shot went into a green side bunker and stayed in its own divot. A “fried egg” is the golf terminology when this occurs. It happens occasionally, but is very unlucky and almost an impossible shot to hit close to the pin. Mickelson did his best but couldn’t get it close. He went on to make double bogey.

Ogilvy couldn’t believe his luck as he sat in the clubhouse pretending to feel sorry for Mickelson. He was the only player down the stretch who made big shots. He chipped in for par off the green at 17 and got up and down from the fairway on 18 for par and what turned out to be the unlikely winning score.

Torrey Pines, 2008
Rocco Mediate deserved to win this US Open. It would have been the feel-good story of the year. Tiger Woods was not in the giving mood, though, as he drained a 15-foot putt on the final hole to tie Mediate and force a playoff the next day. Tiger willed the putt on bumpy greens. If that suspense wasn’t enough, the Monday playoff also ended in a tie after 18 holes.

Just an amazing performance from both players as Rocco had no business playing Tiger to a draw and Tiger was playing on a broken leg that would require surgery a week later. The extra hole was all Tiger needed as he made par to Rocco’s bogey. Interesting side note, Rocco asked Tiger to sign a pin sheet and a picture and put in a note about their epic battle. Players do this all the time, a nice little note about their battle. Tiger did the bare minimum and just signed it without any comment referencing the match. Rocco threw it in the garbage.

Oakmont Country Club, 1994
This ended up as the coming out party for newcomer Ernie Els. He earned his first major by winning a sudden-death playoff over Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts on a brutal Oakmont course in 90-degree heat. Els took a two-stroke lead into the final round but bogeyed the final hole to fall into a Monday playoff. Els started the playoff bogey, triple bogey but fought his way back and made a gutsy par on the second sudden-death playoff hole to hold off Roberts after the two had tied over the previous 19 holes. Ironically, Roberts, who sported the moniker “The Boss of the Moss” for his putting prowess, missed a five-footer on the 18th hole that would have given him the win on Sunday. Curtis Strange, strangely enough, shot 70 on all four days to finish at -4, one stroke out of the playoff.

The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, 1988
You know it’s a prestigious club when they can just call it The Country Club and everyone knows what you’re talking about. It was opened in 1882 and was one of the five charter clubs of the United States Golf Association (the others being Newport CC, Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills, and St. Andrews in Yonkers). This was a thrilling battle between two hardened professionals in Nick Faldo and Curtis Strange. Strange had to get up and down from a deep bunker on the 18th hole to get into a Monday playoff with Faldo. In the playoff, Strange took control with two birdies on the front nine and coasted to a four-stroke victory. He would go on to win the next year’s US Open, the last man to win the America’s championship back to back.

Tie: 1999 Pinehurst and 1982 Pebble Beach

Pinehurst, 1999 
Payne Stewart knocked in a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by a stroke in a thrilling victory. He then grabbed Mickelson, pulled him close, and said, “You’re going to be a great father” to the expecting Mickelson, whose wife Amy would have their daughter Amanda the next day. Phil kept a beeper (remember those) on him the entire time, preparing to leave the course if Amy went into labor. Amanda is again wreaking havoc with Phil’s golf game as she is scheduled to give a valedictory speech at her high school graduation and Phil is committed to attending in lieu of playing in this year’s U.S. Open. Has he never heard of FaceTime? This story gets even more nostalgic when just four months later Payne Stewart died of hypoxia as his plane crashed in South Dakota after all onboard were incapacitated due to an issue with cabin pressure.

Pebble Beach, 1982
Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus were involved in an epic duel when Watson flew the green on the 17th hole and was likely to make bogey. He turned the tables on the Golden Bear with an incredible chip out of the high rough that took a few bounces and rolled into the cup like a putt. That would be enough to separate himself from Nicklaus and he would go on to birdie the 18th and win by two shots. This remains the signature victory of Watson’s career.

Dan Redmond can be found on twitter @danfromdc

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