From the Masters to the U.S. Open, from The Open to the PGA, golf’s major championships did not disappoint in 2018. There was Jordan Spieth threatening to shoot 62 on Sunday at the Masters, only to narrowly miss catching eventual winner Patrick Reed. There was Brooks Koepka, doing at the U.S. Open something that hadn’t been done in nearly 30 years — winning back-to-back titles. There was Francesco Molinari, becoming the first Italian to win a major championship by hoisting the Claret Jug at Carnoustie. There was Koepka, this time at the PGA Championship, standing tall amid a wild final round to win his second major of the year and third in a little more than a year. And, of course, there was Tiger Woods, returning to the big stage as a threat on the weekend at both The Open and PGA, injecting an energy that had been lost since injuries forced him to watch more than play the past five years.
At each major, there were holes that shaped the tournament, ones that decided who would — and who would not — be standing on the final green as champion. Here are the holes that defined this year’s major championships:
The Masters: Augusta National
Hopes for a green jacket often sink to the bottom of Rae’s Creek, which runs through the course and famously sits in front of the 12th green. Jordan Spieth was headed toward another green jacket. He stepped to the 12th tee with a one-shot lead in 2016, and walked off with a quadruple-bogey 7. And that was that. This year, Reed stood on the 12th tee coming off a bogey at No. 11, and with Spieth and Rickie Fowler making Sunday charges. Reed, meanwhile, played the front in even and just fell over par with the stumble at No. 11. Reed, though, stepped onto No. 12 and played safe, hitting his tee shot to 22 feet. Reed rolled in the putt, complete with a fist pump and a yell, for a birdie. He added another at No. 14 and held off Spieth and Fowler for his first major win.
“To make that one on 12 for birdie seemed to kind of give me that momentum and just really that belief going into the last couple [holes] that no matter what they throw at me, I can do this and have a chance,” Reed said.
Spieth started Sunday nine shots behind Reed in a tie for ninth. He was, simply, an afterthought. Then he shot 5-under 31 on the first nine. OK, he was making a move, but clearly he couldn’t make up that much ground, right? He birdied the 12th hole, long his nemesis, and the 13th, 15th and 16th. He was now right on Reed’s heels and threatening to post one of the greatest rounds in Masters history. Only twice had someone posted a 63 at the Masters. Nobody has ever shot 62. Spieth stood on the 18th tee needing birdie to shoot 62, get to 15 under for the tournament and be the leader in the clubhouse. His drive, though, clipped one of the Georgia pines that hugs the left side and traveled just 177 yards. He made bogey from there — the 62 gone, the chance to catch Reed gone, the hopes of the most epic comeback in Masters history gone.
“With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible.” Spieth said. “But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
Garcia could got not get any momentum in the first round, playing the first 14 holes in 2 over. The defending champion, who had won his first green jacket and major championship a year before, needed to do something to get himself going. The 15th hole at Augusta, a reachable par 5, has turned many rounds for many players. This time, it ended his tournament. See if you can follow:
Ball in water
Ball in water
Ball in water
Ball in water
Ball in water
Approach on green
“It’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot,” Garcia said.
U.S. Open: Shinnecock Hills
It will, perhaps, go down as the most memorable hole of this major championship year. It will come from a guy who shot 81 that day and finished T-48 for the event. Frustrated with his round and by the nearly impossible conditions at Shinnecock Hills on Saturday at the U.S. Open, Mickelson jogged after his putt as it was sailing by the hole and took a rap at it before the ball came to a stop. He incurred a two-shot penalty, but more he created an uproar that consumed the tournament. Was he disrespecting the sport? Should he be disqualified? Should he withdraw? Should he apologize? He remained in the field. At first, he refused to apologize. Four days later, in a statement, he eventually said he was sorry.
“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down,” Mickelson said in a statement. “My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend. I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”
Woods entered coming off an 11th-place finish at The Players, where he closed with 65-69, and a T-23 showing at the Memorial. While he has had trouble off the tee at the opening hole throughout his career, he hit a perfect iron into the middle of the first fairway. That was the last bit of good news. He airmailed the green with his second shot. His pitch short came up short, and ended up rolling back to his feet. He put the wedge away this time, but the putter wasn’t much better. His putt didn’t reach the putting surface. He ran the next putt six feet by the hole, then missed that too. Finally, he tapped in for a triple-bogey 7. His tournament, essentially, over after one hole. He went on to shoot 78, followed that with a 72 on Friday and missed the cut.
“I just didn’t get off to a good start,” he said.
Like Spieth on Sunday at the Masters, Fleetwood was making a final-round charge after starting the day in anonymity. He teed off more than two hours before the final pairing of Tony Finau and Daniel Berger. He had worked his way all the way up the leaderboard, thanks to four birdies on the front nine, followed by a string of four consecutive birdies from holes 12 through 15. On 18, he had an eight-footer to shoot 62, which would have been the lowest score in U.S. Open history. His birdie putt tailed off at the last instant and he had to settle for par and 63. He lost by one stroke to Brooks Koepka. He was asked afterward about becoming just the second player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open — Johnny Miller famously shot 63 at Oakmont in the final round to win the 1973 event.
“I wanted 62,” Fleetwood said.
Par is good at the U.S. Open. Sometimes, though, you’ll even take a bogey. That’s what Koepka wrote on his scorecard Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, and it might have been that one hole that earned him his second consecutive U.S. Open win. You cannot miss the green left at the short par-3. So, of course, Koepka missed the green left.
“I want to say I would have taken double [from there],” he said. “You can’t miss it there. To make that big of a mistake, you just want to walk away with bogey.”
He hammered his chip over the green, into the bunker. From there, he blasted out to five feet. That five-footer found the hole and probably changed the tournament for him.
“Luckily, that putt went in, and that built some momentum coming down the stretch and made me feel a little bit better with the putter,” Kopeka said.
The Open: Carnoustie
All the attention was on the guy playing alongside Molinari on Sunday at The Open. That, of course, was Tiger Woods. While Woods had highs and lows — birdies and bogeys and that one costly double — Molinari parred his first 13 holes. On No. 14, the only par-5 on the back nine, Molinari finally converted at just the right time. Moments after Woods knocked in a 25-footer for a birdie, Molinari stepped up and finished off his two-putt birdie to give him sole possession of the lead, one he would not surrender over the final four holes for his first major championship victory.
“To flush the drive on 14 on the fairway, that turns the hole into a par-4 really,” Molinari said. “So I think that was one of the key moments.”
For Woods, you can point to a lot of holes at The Open. In the second round, when he tried to hit a blistering hook out of the rough on the second hole and nearly took out some fans. In the third round, as he was making a move to get into contention, his over-the-top, dead-left tee shot on 18 stayed out of the burn, he went on to make par and finished off a 66. In the final round, the wild second shot out of a fairway bunker that brought all kinds of trouble into play — leaving it in the bunker, hitting it in the burn in front of the green — that led to a par and him standing on the 11th tee with the lead with eight holes to play on Sunday at a major championship. But it was the 11th hole, particularly one shot, that did him in. A bad tee shot was followed by a bad second shot, which actually hit a fan and left Woods just off the green. Instead of a safe shot, Woods tried to hit a delicate flop shot over the bunker. He didn’t pull it off, missed the green and walked away with a double-bogey. He followed with bogey at No. 12, but it was his inability to minimize mistakes at 11 — namely the failed flop shot — that cost him.
“I made a couple of mistakes around the green,” Woods said.
Rose entered the event as one of the favorites, ranked third in the world behind Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. After opening with 1-over 72, he had three bogeys and no birdies over his first 17 holes in the second round. So as he stood over his 18-footer at the 18th on Friday, he needed to roll it in if he wanted to make the cut be around for the weekend. He made the putt and then shot 64 on Saturday and 69 on Sunday. He walked off the course Sunday as the leader in clubhouse at 6-under. He ended up finishing behind Molinari, who won with 8-under 276.
“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” Rose said.
PGA Championship: Bellerive
Woods closed his first nine by missing another fairway, this one wide left. Woods did not hit a fairway over nine holes, the only player in the field not to find the short grass over the front side. He went wide left on No. 9, the ball settling near the cart path, requiring him to take a free drop. With trees in his way, Woods hit a high hook from 172 yards. With the massive crowd going wild, the ball settled 10 feet from the hole. Woods rolled in the birdie putt, complete with a shout and fist pump as the thousands of people huddled around the green roaring. He finished off a fairway-free, how-did-he-pull-that-off 3-under 32 on the front side and had himself very much in the hunt for his first major championship since 2008 as he headed for the final nine holes of the 100th PGA Championship.
“I just tried to hit a sweeping 9-iron up there,” Woods said. “Honestly, I was just trying to get it past the hole, so I would be putting down on the same level. It happened to hit on the hill and kill it. I had the most easy, basic, inside-right putt that you could possibly have and I made it.”
Most in the field just wanted to get through the 16th hole without doing serious damage to their scorecards. A 248-yard par-3, it was the fourth-hardest hole on the course Sunday. It yielded only nine birdies the entire day. Koepka, with Woods in pursuit, under the pressure of holding the lead with three holes to play at a major, made one of them.
“I hit a laser right at the flag,” he said after the round. “That will probably go down as probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit under pressure.”
The birdie gave him breathing room — from Woods, from playing partner Adam Scott — and allowed Koepka to walk away with a two-stroke win and his third major title in the last six in which he has played (his missed this year’s Masters because of a wrist injury).
Woodland had never played in the final group on the weekend at a major. But there he was Saturday, in the last pairing. He seemed to handle any nerves well, with a two-birdie, two-bogey even par front side. Things got a little crazy on No. 10. He hit his second shot in the front bunker, as did playing partner Kevin Kisner. Woodland then blasted his bunker shot over the green, into the back trap. He hit that bunker shot back over the green, back into the first bunker. Thing is, because they were playing in the last group, nobody raked that front bunker. So Woodland’s ball settled into footprints left by Kisner. By the time everything was done, Woodland wrote a triple-bogey 7 on his card.
“I thought [the second shot] was perfect, and it just came up short in the bunker,” Woodland said. “Then I hit a couple of bad bunker shots.”