KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — This has been the year of the comeback on the PGA Tour, with 11 players coming from at least four shots behind to win in the final round.
Or maybe it’s the year of the meltdown.
There was Kyle Stanley making triple bogey on the final hole at Torrey Pines and losing in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker. Most recently, Jim Furyk took a double bogey — the last four shots from the collar of a bunker next to the 18th green — to lose at Firestone. In between, there was Adam Scott making four straight bogeys at Royal Lytham & St. Annes to lose a four-shot lead in the British Open to Ernie Els.
The PGA Championship is not immune to a lead being lost on the back nine, as recently as last year with Jason Dufner.
Going into the final major of the year, here’s one list of the five greatest collapses:
5. BYRON’S BIG MISS
Byron Nelson reached the championship match for the third straight year in the 1941 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills, and he was favored to become a back-to-back winner when he faced Vic Ghezzi in the final at Cherry Hills.
Nelson had done the heavy lifting in the quarterfinals with a 2-up win over rival Ben Hogan, and in the semifinals when he beat Gene Sarazen, 2 and 1.
In the final, Lord Byron had a 3-up lead as he headed to back nine. And that’s when it all started to go wrong. Ghezzi, who had not won a tournament in three years, won the next three holes to square the match, and both missed birdie chances on the last hole to set up overtime.
Nelson dodged a bullet on the first extra hole when Ghezzi missed a 10-foot putt, and it looked as though the match would continue on the next hole when both players chipped up to about 3 feet, so close that the referee had to flip a coin to see who was away.
Nelson missed his 3-footer, and Ghezzi made his putt for his only major championship.
4. SUDDEN DEATH AT PEBBLE BEACH
The 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach was the first time a major championship was decided by a sudden-death playoff.
But it should have never come to that.
Gene Littler, with one of the sweetest swings in golf, built a four-shot lead over Jack Nicklaus going into the final round and was headed for a wire-to-wire win until he reached the back nine. Littler made bogey on five of the next six holes, allowing Nicklaus to catch him on the 15th hole. Nicklaus, however, fell back with a bogey on the 17th, where five years earlier he had knocked down the flag with that famous 1-iron.
Lanny Watkins started the final round six shots behind, and despite a pair of eagles on the front nine, was still five behind when he made the turn. Littler closed with a 76, and Watkins made a birdie on the 18th for a 70 that was good enough for a tie at 282.
Watkins won with a 6-foot par on the third extra hole. The win eventually gave him a footnote in PGA history as the only man to win and lose the PGA Championship in a sudden-death playoff. Larry Nelson beat him 10 years later.
3. SHARK BITE
In the year of the “Saturday Slam,” Greg Norman was the 54-hole leader in all four majors. He was at his best in the final major, the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness Club in Ohio, leading from an opening 65 and taking a four-shot lead into the final round.
The Shark began a slow bleed, however, and he started dropping shots around the turn on a difficult Sunday at Inverness, when only 12 of the 72 players managed par or better. Norman played cleaner shots in the final hour, though Bob Tway scrambled beautifully for pars. They came to the 18th hole tied for the lead, and Norman again appeared to have the advantage when his approach settled in the first cut, while Tway hit into a bunker.
What happened next is a regular fixture on highlight reels for the PGA Championship, and all the bad luck that befell Norman. Peering over the lip of the bunker, Tway blasted out and pumped his arms over his head in shock and celebration when it dropped for birdie. Norman had to chip in to force a playoff, though the energy was gone. He wound up with a bogey, a 5-over 76, and another chapter of devastating losses in the majors.
2. DUFNER SHOWS A PULSE
Jason Dufner looked to be as cool as ever for someone who had never won on the PGA Tour. He calmly built a lead in the final round of the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, and he must have thought he had this one in the bag from the 15th tee.
He arrived in time to see Keegan Bradley, playing in his first major championship, go from the bunker to the water and miss a putt for a triple bogey. Bradley headed to the 16th tee five shots behind with only three holes left. It looked hopeless.
Dufner then hit his tee shot in the water, the first sign of trouble for him all day. It appeared to be short-lived, however, when Dufner managed to escape with bogey. Ahead of him, however, Bradley hit his best drive of the final round to set up a birdie. The lead was three shots. On the par-3 17th, Bradley rammed in a 35-foot birdie putt, while behind him Dufner missed the green from the fairway to drop another shot. The lead was down to one.
Dufner cleared the water on the 17th, but then ran his long birdie attempt some 10 feet past the hole and three-putted for bogey. Just like that, they were tied.
Dufner managed to par the last hole for a 69 and join Bradley in a playoff. On the first extra hole, the 16th, Dufner nearly holed out from the fairway, only to miss his birdie attempt from 6 feet as Bradley made birdie. Dufner bogeyed the next hole, and by then it was too late to recover from his final-hour meltdown.
Bradley became the third player in 100 years to win a major in his first try.
1. “IT’S ONLY A GAME, RIGHT?”
Mike Reid thought he had learned his lesson. Earlier that year at the Masters, he was leading through 14 holes until he three-putted for bogey and hit into the water on the 16th for a double bogey, finishing three shots behind.
The 1989 PGA Championship closed out the major season at Kemper Lakes, and Reid was prepared for atonement. He opened with a 66 to share the lead, took it outright with a 67 in the second round and the straight-driver known as “Radar” remained in control throughout the final round.
Until the end, when it all looked so familiar.
Payne Stewart, dressed in Chicago Bears colors through an NFL apparel deal, closed with a 67 well ahead of Reid. It looked as if he would be the runner-up in a major for the second time until Reid, who had a three-shot lead with three holes to play, fell apart.
He hit into the water on the 16th and had to salvage a bogey. Then, he flubbed a chip on the 17th and three-putted — the second putt from only 2 feet — for a double bogey to fall into a tie. Reid regained his composure long enough to rifle his approach into 4 feet on the final hole, where a birdie would have forced a playoff. He missed, shot 74 and finished one shot behind.
A gentle man, Reid never looked more human than when facing reporters when he tried to find perspective as tears welled in his eyes.
“It’s only a game, right?” he said.