At one time, the PGA championship was played like the Ryder Cup, with head-to-head match play determining a champion.
While this is exciting, none of the majors plays this way, with the PGA Championship switching to stroke play in 1958.
Since then, the great tournament (and last of the four majors in a season) that rotates between monster courses like Oakland Hills, Riviera, Winged Foot, Medinah, Baltusrol, Hazeltine and Whistling Straits has seen some exciting moments. This year, the best in golf will tangle at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, starting with practice rounds on Aug. 7.
One that comes to mind, and which narrowly misses making this list, was Tiger Woods emotional win at Medinah in 2006. His father and mentor, Earl, had died earlier that year and all during what would be his 3rd Wanamaker Trophy and 12th major victory, he kept hearing his father’s voice in his ear, urging him on.
Don’t worry, though, Tiger makes another appearance here in a compilation of what we think were the 20 best moments at golf’s fourth major in the stroke play era only (in chronological order).
20. Jack Nicklaus Dominates At Dallas – 1963
Like Tiger Woods some 36 years later, Jack Nicklaus was a 23-year-old phenom in 1963 when he entered the PGA Championship at the Dallas Athletic Club as a two-time major winner. He’d won the Masters earlier that year and the U.S. Open in 1962 and was looking for the third leg in the Career Slam. A tactician, Nicklaus had a penchant (not followed by many others) for charting courses he played, calculating precise distances he could make shots by recording the number of steps he could hit each club. Already fatigued after arriving in Texas from the British Open, where he finished third, Nicklaus would need all of his precise powers — and 10 hours of sleep a night — to take down Dave Ragan by two strokes in sweltering heat. It was so hot, in fact, that he had to hold the famous Wanamaker Trophy with a towel.
19. Old Man Julius Boros Outlasts The King – 1968
At a time when most golfers are thinking about the senior tour and resting on their laurels, Julius “Moose” Boros took on the world’s best at the PGA Championship in 1968, and won. Already 48, the two-time major champion (1952 and 1963 U.S. Opens), Boros had to battle the heat at Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio that year, as well as hunt down premier — and younger — golfers like Arnold Palmer and Bob Charles. He opened with back-to-back one-over 71’s to open the event, sitting two back on cut down day. After an even-par 70 on moving day, he went toe-to-toe with Palmer and Charles on Sunday, right to the wire. Palmer was within a stroke on the last hole, and after hitting a brilliant 3-wood shot that had to travel 230 yards to hit the green, he missed his putt. Boros, lying two just beside the green, chipped to within two feet for a tap in and the win.
18. Gary Player Pulls Off Miracle Win At Oakland Hills – 1972
Depending on the conditions, Oakland Hills Golf Club in Bloomfield, Michigan can positively eat a pro golfer up. South African Gary Player found out just how nasty it could be in 1972. Having won the event in 1962 and finishing a close second to Ray Floyd in 1969, Player opened with a pair of one-over rounds of 71 to sit two shots off the lead after Friday play. He then tamed the Oakland beast on Saturday, shooting a 67 to head into Sunday with a one-shot advantage over Billy Casper. Sunday, the esteemed course bared its teeth, causing Player to bogey 14 and 15 to fall into a tie with Jim Jamieson. On the par-4 16th hole, he sliced his drive directly behind a willow tree and sowed the seed of doubt that he could win it. But, using a nine-iron and lining up his shot by standing on a chair to a water-guarded green, his shot barely cleared the trees and the water, rolling to within four feet of the cup. He sank the birdie and after pars on 17 and 18, he was champion again.
17. John Mahaffey Holds Off Pate And Watson In Playoff – 1978
John Mahaffey was a 1970s version of Greg Norman. The slight Texan could have won back-to-back U.S. Open tournaments in 1975 and 1976, but bowed in a playoff to Lou Graham in ’75 and let a two-shot lead slip in 1976 to finish T-4. In 1978, he and the rest of the PGA Tour’s best had to tangle with Oakmont and the “church pew” bunkers to fight for the Wanamaker Trophy. Mahaffey opened with a four-over 75 on opening day, putting him eight shots off first round leader Tom Watson. He improved on cut-down day, fashioning a four-under 67, but still found himself six strokes shy of Watson. Things didn’t get any better on moving day, as Watson shot a 67 and Mahaffey a 68, putting him seven strokes behind with three golfers between him and the leader. But, strange things happen on major Sundays and by the end of the final round, Mahaffey had reeled Watson (and Jerry Pate) in to force an improbable playoff. In a two-hole playoff, Mahaffey birdied the second hole to win his first and only career major.
16. Hal Sutton Slays The Golden Bear At Riviera – 1983
In 1983, Hal Sutton was just beginning his PGA Tour journey, having turned pro in 1981. Imagine then, having to face down 17-time major champion Jack Nicklaus at an event he had won on five previous occasions and finished second three other times. A daunting task, to say the very least. The storied Riviera Country Club in L.A. was the site of the ’83 PGA Championship and Sutton, who won the fifth major (Players Championship) earlier that year, opened with a six-under 65 to old an early one-shot lead. He kept up his hot play with a 66 to move three strokes ahead of Ben Crenshaw going into moving day. A 72 on Saturday kept him two strokes clear of Crenshaw and six strokes better than Nicklaus, who scuffled to four-under. Nerves got the better of him on Sunday, and three consecutive bogeys on 12, 13 and 14 allowed Nickluas to creep up on him. However, he steeled his nerves enough to close with an even-par 71, which narrowly allowed him to beat the great Nicklaus, who shot 66.
15. Lee Trevino Wins One For The Aged – 1984
Long after Julius Boros broke through at the age of 48 (oldest ever) to win the 1968 PGA Championship, three veteran tour members battled it out for supremacy at Shoal Creek in Alabama for the 1984 event. Lee Trevino, then 44, Gary Player (48) and relative youngster Lanny Wadkins (34) staged an entertaining run at the Wanamaker. Trevino and Wadkins opened with 69 and 68, respectively, while the Black Knight shot 74 to sit well back after Day 1. On cut-down day, Player fired a superb 63 to gain a share of the lead with Trevino (68) and Wadkins (69). On moving Day, Trevino went low again, carding a 67 to take a one stroke lead over Wadkins (68) and Player (69). However, on Sunday, the Merry Mex would leave Wadkins and Player in the dust, shooting his fourth straight round in the 60s with a 69 to win by four over Player and Wadkins. It was his second PGA championship and last of six major wins.
14. Bob Tway Chips Out Of Bunker To Nip The Shark – 1986
The year 1986 was actually a good one for ultimate major championship bridesmaid Greg Norman. He narrowly missed winning the Masters that year, finishing T2 to Jack Nicklaus and then winning his first major at the Open Championship at Turnberry. He entered the PGA at Inverness in Ohio as a favorite to win, to say the least. Well down that favorites list stood Bob Tway, who had a breakout in just his fifth year on the circuit, finishing T8 at both the 1986 Masters and U.S. Open. The Shark did as expected through 54 holes at Inverness, shooting 11-under to hold a four shot lead going into Sunday over Tway, who carded a 64 to climb up the leaderboard. By the par-4 18th on Sunday, Norman’s lead had evaporated and the two were tied. However, Tway hit his drive into heavy rough and then his 9-iron approach found a greenside bunker. Norman found no such trouble and put his approach shot to within 25 feet of the cup on the fringe. With the green sloping away from him, Tway lofted the ball out of the sand to the lip of the green and the ball improbably rolled all the way into the hole. Norman flubbed his third and bogeyed to hand Tway his only major championship.
13. John Daly Wins Most Improbable PGA Championship Ever – 1991
In 1991, the future hard-partying, loud clothes-wearing John Daly was still a relative unknown on the PGA Tour, with but a T-69 at the 1989 U.S. Open on his major championship resume. And, prior to the start of the ’91 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in Indiana, the bomber was ninth alternate and likely out of the loop. However, players started dropping off like flies and only after Nick Price bowed out to be at the birth of his first child did Daly get in. Interestingly, he hired Price’s caddy, Squeaky Medlen to guide him along. A young Daly would use his prodigious length off the tee, averaging 303 yards per drive on the 7,295 Crooked Stick layout. He also played well on speedy greens to shoot an opening round 69, putting him two strokes off the lead. By Saturday, after rounds of 67 and 69, Daly was three shots clear of Kenny Knox and Craig Stadler. He maintained that composure right through Sunday, never finding any trouble off the tee and winning by three for his first of two career major wins.
12. Paul Azinger Outduels Greg Norman At Inverness – 1993
It was like deja-vu all over again for Greg Norman at Inverness in 1993. Seven years and another major win at the 1993 Open Championship later, Norman entered the PGA Championship at Inverness — scene of his demoralizing defeat to Bob Tway in ’86 — a heavy favorite to win it. Paul Azinger, meanwhile, was also having a fine year, winning the Memorial and the New England Classic heading into the last major. Vijay Singh was the leader after cut-down day at Inverness, shooting 11-under to hold a two-shot lead. Norman was 68-68, five strokes back and Azinger was 69-66 and four behind. On moving day, Singh fell out with a 73, while Norman carded a 67 to take the lead, one ahead of Azinger and five others (including Singh). Azinger and Norman both played well on Sunday, with the former shooting 68 and the latter 69 to force a playoff. Norman, unbelievably, would be denied again in that sudden-death playoff, missing a short par putt on the second hole, making Azinger a major champion for the only time in his career.
11. Riviera But Child’s Play For Steve Elkington – 1995
Only two players in PGA Championship have logged lower final tallies than Steve Elkington’s 17-under in 1995 at the Riviera. Tiger Woods shot 18-under to win at both Valhalla in 2000 and Medinah in 2006, while Jason Day shot the lowest aggregate score ever with a 20-under at Whistling Straits in 2015 (more on those two later). Aussie Elkington was finally finding consistent success after 10 years on the tour in 1995, winning the Mercedes championship and finishing T5 at the Masters and T6 at the Open Championship heading into the PGA at Riviera. After 54 holes, it didn’t seem likely that Elkington would win it, having shot a collective — and admirable — 10-under 203 to put him in a tie for fifth heading into Sunday, six strokes behind Ernie Els. But, Elkington would shoot “the round of his life”, carding a 64, to tie him with Scot Colin Montgomerie (65) and force a playoff. Elkington ended any mystery on the first playoff hole, sinking a 20-foot birdie putt to win his only major.
10. Davis Love III Ends Long Major Drought At Winged Foot – 1997
For 10 years leading up to the PGA Championship at historic Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Davis Love III was one of the best players on the tour, winning 10 tournaments. These included three at the MCI Heritage, a Players Championship and a Buick Invitation. Yet, all he could do in 38 major championships leading up to Winged Foot were six top-10 finishes, including T7 at the ’97 Masters and T-10 at the ’97 Open Championship. He would end that ignominious drought in fine fashion, shooting 66-71-66 to put him in a tie with countryman Justin Leonard after 54 holes. On Sunday, Love’s hot hand didn’t cool down and with a four-stroke lead at the 18th, he asked his brother and caddy Mark, to help him get through “the last five or 10 minutes.” Walking down the fairway, he asked playing partner Leonard (who would shoot a 71 to finish second) to walk him, but Leonard pushed him ahead to accept the applause he was owed for shooting what would be a winning round of 66 and claiming the Wanamaker for his only major triumph.
9. Youngsters Woods And Garcia Battle To The End At Medinah – 1999
While there had been a famous battle or two between aging tour stars in the past, fuzzy-faced youngster Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia put in a pitched battle of their own at Medinah in 1999. Woods, the “old man” of the two at 23, had already won a major, the Masters in 1997 when he was 21. In between, he had five top 10s to add to his growing celebrity. Garcia, 19, a tour rookie who had won his first pro tournament at the Irish Open that year, was the youngest ever competitor since Gene Sarazen in 1921. Garcia roared out to an early lead, shooting a 66 to have a two-shot lead, with Woods four back after a 70. By Saturday, the two had flip-flopped, with Woods holding a share of the lead at 11-under and Garcia two back at 9-under. In a thrilling final round, where Garcia made a famous par-saving shot at 16, Woods won his second of 14 majors by rolling a 15-foot putt to within a tap-in of par to clinch it by a single stroke.
8. Rich Beem Nips Tiger Woods For Only Major Victory – 2002
For one bright, shining moment, journey PGA Tour player Rich Beem was on top of the golf world. The 31-year-old native of Phoenix had won two PGA tour events in eight years and who had just a T70 at the 1999 PGA Championship (won by Woods) to his name. At Hazeltine in 2002, Beem mounted a significant comeback to claim his only major title and his last tour win to date. He shot an even-par 72 to open a tournament that had the most world-ranked players ever (98 of the top 100) when play began. On cut-down day, Beem breezed into a tie for a five-way share of the lead by carding a superb 66. However, on Saturday he reverted to a 72, allowing Justin Leonard to swing it his way and go ahead by three strokes. Leonard faltered badly on Sunday, shooting a 77, while Beem played well but had to fend off a determined Tiger Woods, which got the better of a lot of players in his heyday. But, Beem never withered, holing a huge birdie on 16 to all but cement his big triumph.
7. Shaun Micheel Wins Only PGA Tour Event At Oak Hill – 2003
We’re going to bet that when Shaun Micheel teed it up at just his third major tournament, the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, that he could beat 96 of the world’s top 100 players to kiss the Wanamaker on Sunday. After turning pro in 1992, the self-taught Orlando native struggled to keep his tour card, winning the Asian Tour’s Singapore Open in 1998 and the Nike Greensboro Open (on what is now the web.com tour). Faced with the daunting task of beating the world’s best on a tough layout at Oak Hill, Micheel carded an admirable 69 in the opening round to sit three shots off the lead. He did himself one better on cut-down day and was a two-shot leader heading into Saturday. He would shoot another sub-70 (69) on moving day, but was caught by another unknown, Chad Campbell, who fired a 65 to grab a share of the lead with Micheel. The two would duel in the final round, with Micheel hitting a shot for the ages — a 175-yard arcing shot from deep rough — on 18 that would land inches from the cup, which he tapped in for the win.
6. Vijay Singh Narrowly Wins In Playoff At Whistling Straits – 2004
Not many players work as hard at getting their game in shape as Fijian Vijay Singh. Usually on the range long before and even after PGA Tour events, Singh preps his shot-making meticulously. In 2004, he was considered old at 41 and already had one PGA Championship to his credit, the 1998 tourney at Sahalee. In the interim, he had won a Masters and a Tour championship, along with 11 other PGA tour triumphs among his 19 total leading up to the 2004 PGA Championship. Whistling Straits was hosting its first ever major and was a monstrous addition, coming in at 7,790 yards. Singh, who had won four tour events that year, opened with a 67 and followed it up with a 68 on Friday to share the lead with Justin Leonard at nine-under. He bested Leonard by a stroke (69 to 70) on moving day, setting up a memorable Sunday. Singh’s putter “fell asleep” according to his later comments and he shot a 76 (the second highest final score by a major winner). That was good enough, still, to get him into a playoff with Leonard (75) and hard-charging Chris DiMarco. In a three-hole aggregate playoff, Singh steeled himself to make par on the third and last hole to win it.
5. The Mick Wins At Baltusrol With Famous Flop Shot – 2005
It took lefty Phil Mickelson a long time and quite a few PGA Tour victories later to finally win his first major, the 2004 Masters. A standout on the tour, the Mick had 17 top-10s (including three second-place finishes) at majors before donning his first of two Green Jackets. That seemed to propel him, as he would grab another second at the U.S. Open, third at the Open Championship and a T6 at the PGA. In 2005 he wasn’t nearly as prolific in the majors but won three more tour events including the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, setting him up for a memorable run at Baltusrol for the PGA Championship. He would be the outright leader or hold a share of the lead through three rounds and again on Sunday before play was suspended due to rain. When play resumed on Monday, Mickelson found himself in a tie for the lead with Thomas Bjorn and 1995 winner Steve Elkington on the par-5 18th. Faced with a 50-foot shot from deep rough just off the green after getting there in two, Mickelson took a shot he’d practiced countless times, flopping a high chip to within two feet for a tap-in bird and the win.
4. Padraig Harrington Becomes First European In 78 Years To Hold Wanamaker – 2008
It was golden two years for Irish golfer Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008. A regular on the European Tour, he had 11 wins on that circuit and another two on PGA Tour heading into the 2007 Open Championship. He would beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff that year and then go back-to-back with another in 2008. Having won two of the last five majors heading into the PGA championship at the always difficult Oakland Hills, Harrington was no doubt high on bettors’ lists to win it. After two rounds, Harrington was closer to the cut line than he was the lead, carding rounds of 71 and 74, putting him six shots off the lead. He rallied nicely to a 66 on Saturday, climbing to within four shots of 54-hole leader Ben Curtis. Harrington capped his outstanding run that weekend with another 66 on Sunday, winning it by two strokes over Curtis and Sergio Garcia. He was the first European to hold the Wanamaker since Tommy Armour in 1930.
3. Y.E. Yang Steals Win From Tiger Woods – 2009
Tiger Woods had never lost a major when he entered the final round with a lead, going 14-for-14, heading into the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. That is, he was perfect until he ran into Asian Tour regular Yong-eun Yang. Y.E. as he was known to everyone in North America staged a comeback of epic proportions to clip four-time PGA champion Woods, who played an uncharacteristic final round to lose. Yang was nine strokes back of Woods after the fifth hole of his second round when he got his game into gear. He was within two after shooting a 67 on Saturday, while Woods carded a 71 to keep the lead at 8-under. Paired with Woods in the final group on Sunday, Yang played like he was out with his caddy on a Monday, not a care in the world and making good enough shots to get him into the lead. On 18, he completed his charge, drilling a shot with his hybrid-3 that sailed 210 yards over a tree, then a greenside bunker to come to rest 10 feet from the flag. To an enormous roar from the crowd, he sunk it for birdie and a 70, winning by three strokes over Woods, who shot a forgettable 75.
2. McIlroy Wins It In Near Dark Conditions At Valhalla – 2014
Of all the major championships he has played in since turning pro in 2007, Rory McIlroy has had near unparalleled success at PGA Championships. Eight times he’s teed it up, winning it twice, coming in third twice and finishing eighth once. Incredible, considering the fields he has been up against in those events. He had a relatively easy time of it for his first Wanamaker in 2012, playing superbly the final two rounds at Kiawah Island to beat Englishman David Lynn by a healthy eight strokes. McIlroy wouldn’t have a walk in the park two years later at Valhalla, holding just a one-stroke lead after 54 holes despite shooting 13-under. He also had Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson nipping at his heels, which would give anyone the willies. He did make bogey on two of his first six holes to fall out of the lead — by as much as three strokes at one point — but made eagle at 10 and birdies at 13 and 17 to get to 16-under and back in the lead. Mickelson need an eagle on 18 to tie McIlroy and nearly pulled it off, nearly holing out a chip. McIlroy needed only to make par and did, winning the second of back-to-back majors (he won the Open Championship for the first time that year too).
1. Jason Day Goes Lowest Ever to Emerge Victorious – 2015
Affable Aussie Jason Day, who won no PGA Tour events — other than a match play tourney in 2014 — after an initial victory in 2010, broke out in a big way in 2015. Not that he was a bad golfer either, logging nine top-10s in majors between 2010 and 2015, including two runner-up finishes at the 2011 and 2013 U.S. Opens. In 2015, he got things rolling with victories at the Farmers Insurance Open, and the Canadian Open, sandwiching a T9 at the U.S. Open and a T4 at the Open Championship between. In order to win his first major at Whistling Straits, Day had to emerge from a pack that included top players Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose to go into Sunday with the clubhouse lead at 15-under. He wouldn’t disappoint his growing legion of fans, carding a 67 on Sunday to set a new major championship scoring record at 20-under, beating Spieth by three.