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10 Heart-Wrenching Chokes at The Masters

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Of all the majors, The Masters gives golfers the greatest shot at low scores. It's inviting, but Augusta is also a temptress—having scorned many astute veterans and hapless newbies. Below are ten of the worst train wrecks and stumbles to ever happen at Augusta National.

1. Rory McIlroy: 2011

In 2011, Rory McIlroy took a four-stroke lead into the final round on Sunday at Augusta. But his hopes of becoming the youngest-ever Green Jacket owner were dashed when he sprayed his drive deep into the woods on the 10th, making a triple, and then proceeded to four-putt 12 and put his tee ball in Rae’s Creek on the 13th. McIlroy didn't sulk for long, though; two months later he lapped the field at the U.S. Open, winning his first major.

2. Greg Norman: 1986, 1987, and 1996

Greg Norman blundered at The Masters on three separate occasions. In 1986, Norman made a Sunday charge, stringing together six birdies to tie the lead heading to the final tee box. It was not to be. Norman found the 18th fairway, but pushed his approach into the gallery, finishing his day with a bogey and a 2nd place finish. Ten years later, The Shark blew a six-shot lead on Sunday, a Masters record.

But his most famous collapse of all came in 1987, when Norman squandered a Sunday lead and lost in sudden death in heartbreaking fashion. On the second hole of the playoff, Larry Mize, an Augusta native, chipped in from the right side of the 11th green, holing-out from a spot where most professionals tremble at the prospects of getting up and down.

3. Scott Hoch: 1989

In 1989, Scott Hoch went into a sudden death playoff with Nick Faldo. On the first extra hole, the 10th, Faldo limped his way to a bogey five. Hoch sat on the green with a birdie putt and a chance to two-putt his way to a Masters victory. He rolled his birdie to just outside from two feet away, then missed the comeback putt for par before going on to lose on the next hole.

4. Tom Weiskopf: 1980

Weiskopf in '95

Tom Weiskopf won the British Open in 1973, but his long and impressive career is mostly remembered—fairly or unfairly—for near-misses and blunders. One of the most infamous happened in 1980 at Amen Corner's par three 12th, where Weiskopf, doing his best Tin Cup impression, dunked nearly a half-dozen in the water before carding a 13.

5. Ed Sneed: 1979

Ed Sneed had 45 career top-10 finishes on the PGA tour and seven professional wins, but he never a won a major. In 1979 at Augusta, Sneed came close but choked away a five-stroke lead on Sunday. Even after a so-so showing on the first 15 holes, he was still up three with three to play. He bogeyed his way home and faltered in a playoff where he was put out of his misery by Fuzzy Zoeller.

6. Tsuneyuki "Tommy" Nakajima: 1978

Nakajima in '96

At the 1978 Masters, Tsuneyuki "Tommy" Nakajima—one of the greatest Japanese golfers of all time—did what so many have done and ended his chances at a Green Jacket by putting a ball in Rae's Creek at the par five 13th. But instead of taking a drop, Nakajima elected to play the ball as it lay. Splashing down with his club, the ball plopped up onto his foot for a two-stroke penalty. He went on to tally a 13.

7. Roberto De Vicenzo: 1968

De Vicenzo in '67

In 1968, Roberto De Vicenzo, one of the greatest Argentine golfers of all time, was trying to follow up his '67 British Open title with a Green Jacket. On Sunday at Augusta, De Vicenzo carded a 65, good enough for a playoff—until it wasn't. The Argentine's signed scorecard incorrectly had him down for par on the 17th when he had actually birdied the hole. Under the Rules of Golf, crediting yourself with a score lower than the actual tally warrants disqualification. If you accidentally give yourself a bigger number, then the higher score stands. De Vincenzo's 65 became a 66 and he was out of a playoff and into 2nd place. Maybe the saddest choke in Masters history, the heartbreak led De Vicenzo to famously say in his broken English, "What a stupid I am."

8. Arnold Palmer: 1961

Even the King occasionally crumbles under pressure. In 1961, Arnold Palmer came to the last hole on Sunday with a one-shot lead over Gary Player. But his approach to the 18th flew the green and settled in a back bunker. Palmer, in a rare moment of weakness, thumped his sand shot back across the green and down the front slope. He could still get it up and down to force a playoff but Palmer, rattled, chipped to 15 feet and subsequently missed his bogey putt, gifting Player the first of his three Green Jackets.

9. Ken Venturi: 1956

Venturi in '67

Attempting to become the first and only amateur to ever win The Masters, Ken Venturi entered Sunday of the 1956 Masters in a comfortable lead. But Sunday at Augusta is never comfortable, and Venturi relinquished his four-shot lead by three-putting six times. He carded an 80 and finished second.

10. Ben Hogan: 1946

Hogan in '40

No one is sacred at Augusta National—not even the man with a golf swing gifted from the heavens. In 1946, Ben Hogan came to the 18th tee tied for the lead. After a fairway and a green-in-regulation, The Hawk was left with a 12-foot birdie for the win. He missed. He then missed a two-footer that would have forced a playoff. The three-putt bogey gave Herman Keiser an upset victory.

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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
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Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.


Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
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In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.


Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.


Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.


In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.


A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
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Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.


Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.


For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)


While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.


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