The 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont was the first major championship win by Dustin Johnson after a heartbreaking near miss at Chambers Bay in 2015. Despite a controversial penalty on the 5th green, Johnson took the 2016 title by three strokes. It was a different story in 2015. Instead of walking away with his first major win, Johnson somehow managed to three-putt the 18th hole which handed the championship to Jordan Spieth. But if there is any solace for Johnson, it’s that his collapse at Chambers Bay pales in comparison to some of the other more colossal meltdowns in major championship history.
It was at the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Adam Scott and his belly putter went on a terrible run together on the final four holes. The leader after 54 holes, Scott made birdie at the 14th hole to extend his final round lead to four with four holes to play. Ernie Els, two groups ahead of Scott, birdied the 18th hole for a 68 and the clubhouse lead. When Scott agonizingly bogeyed each of the final four holes, he dropped to second and Els won the Championship by a single stroke to capture his second Claret Jug.
While it wasn’t his only fumble at Augusta, Greg Norman faltered down the stretch once again at the 1996 Masters. Leading after each of the first three rounds, Norman blew a six-shot lead by the 11th hole on Sunday finishing the day with a 78 that included five bogeys and two double-bogeys. Paired with Norman in the final group, Nick Faldo overcame a six-stroke deficit to finish five strokes ahead of the runner-up Norman, winning his third Masters and his sixth and final major title.
While Johnson, Scott, and Norman were not to be denied major championships during their careers, the most iconic collapse in golf history has to be from the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie where Frenchman Jean Van de Velde appeared to be on the verge of a major upset. The clear leader playing the closing holes. Van de Velde arrived at the 18th tee with a three-shot lead needing only a double-bogey six to win on a hole where he had already made a birdie in two of the previous three rounds.
Despite the commanding lead, Van de Velde chose to use driver off the tee at 18 and he was lucky to find dry land. Rather than laying up safely and hitting the green with his third, Van de Velde then decided to go for the green with his second shot which ricocheted off the grandstands, bouncing fifty yards backwards into knee-deep rough. And that was the beginning of the end.
On his third shot, Van de Velde’s club got tangled in the rough on the downswing and his ball flew into the Barry Burn, a deep water hazard that guards the 18th green. As painful as it was to watch, he removed his shoes and socks and stepped into the shin-deep water debating whether to hit the waterlogged ball. Ultimately, he took a drop and proceeded to land his fifth shot into the greenside bunker from which he blasted to six feet and made the putt for a triple-bogey seven. Game over. Van de Velde dropped into a three-way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. And while it was local hero Paul Lawrie who prevailed to win his first and only major, this was The Open that will be best remembered for the player who finished second.
Jean Van de Velde will be forever known as the golfer who best exemplifies the most iconic collapse in major championship history.