A masterful chip for the ages

No, I’m not talking about Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series, or the first shot at the Battle of Lexington that signified the start of the American Revolution. I’m talking about the shot Tiger Woods hit on the 16th hole in the Masters on Sunday.

With apologies to Tom Watson, this was the “chip shot heard ’round the world.” It had all the characteristics of a sports miracle: improbable, miraculous and lucky — super flippin’ lucky. Despite an amazing early morning run by Tiger — he finished his third round with a 65 — his play on the back nine on Sunday was a little less than average. Tiger had led Chris DiMarco by five strokes at one point in the round, but heading into the 16th hole DiMarco had pulled to within one stroke of Woods.

DiMarco’s comeback and Tiger’s mini-collapse is what makes the shot even more incredible. We have all seen Tiger bring legendary courses like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews to their knees. We have all seen Tiger run away with every major he has had the luxury of leading after 54 holes — he is 9-0 in such cases. And with the exception of the 2000 PGA Championship, where Tiger was in a playoff with Bob May, Tiger has been the ultimate front-runner. But on Sunday, right before the 16th hole, Tiger looked beatable.

As the ball moved off the ridge and toward the hole, not even the ball knew it was going in. In fact, the ball was stuck on the lip of the cup for about two seconds — two seconds of excruciating agony. Whether it was the earth-shaking noise of the “patrons” or Sir Isaac Newton’s law, the ball finally dropped for an incredible birdie. And even though Tiger bogeyed the final two holes and went into a playoff, no shot impacted the tournament more than “the chip.”

Tiger’s miracle shot reminded me of other memorable Masters’ moments. Here’s a list of my Top 10.

1. 1986 – Jack Nicklaus’ putt at the 17th hole: No other individual performance has inspired more people to pick up the game of golf than Jack’s win at the age of 46. Ask anyone over 25 why they play golf; I guarantee most of them will say it was because of the ’86 Masters.

2. 2005 – Tiger Woods’ birdie chip at the 16th hole.

3. 1935 – Sarazen at the 15th: This was the original “shot heard ’round the world.” Sarazen holed out his second shot with a 4-wood on the par-five 15th for a double eagle that put him in position to get a playoff win against Craig Wood.

4. 1987 – Larry Mize’s chip on the 11th against Greg Norman: Seems like every major Norman is in is an exercise of futility. Some of the greatest moments in golf have come at his expense, but his zillions of dollars have always helped him cushion the blow.

5. 2004 – Mickelson’s 18th-hole putt: Lefty gets the monkey off his back.

6. 1993 – Chip Beck’s third shot on the 15th: Down by two shots with four holes to play, Beck dumps a wedge in the water after gutlessly laying up.

7. 1998 – Mark O’Meara’s winning putt on 18th: This is one of my favorite golf moments and one of the all time best sports jinxes. Tied with Duval and Jim Furyk, O’Meara was a 20-foot putt away from winning. Duval was sitting in Jones Cabin after signing his scorecard, waiting for O’Meara to putt, when Augusta National Chairman Jack Stephens leaned over to pat him on the back. “Don’t worry, David,” Stephens said. “Nobody ever makes that putt.” Nice call Jack.

8. 1989 – Scott Hoch’s missed putt: In the first playoff hole with Nick Faldo, Hoch had a two-foot putt to extend the playoff, but he pulled it left. What could anyone expect from a guy whose name rhymes with “choke”?

9. 1998 – Fred Couples at the 13th: This is one of my favorites because it produced the greatest sound byte in golf history — an “Oh, baby!” immediately after he struck the ball for his second shot on the par five. Too bad Couples became a part of the worst sound byte ever when he dropped the f-bomb on national television at Bay Hill earlier this year.

10. 1997 – Tiger’s win in 1997: Although the tournament was anti-climactic, it was easily the most dominant performance I have ever witnessed by a golfer.

Even though I put Tiger’s shot at No. 2, I am most definitely not a member of the Tiger Woods Fan Club. I hate the guy, but I respect him. I think he is a marvelous athlete and he should thank his father every day for stapling a 9-iron to his hand when he was a toddler. In spite of my raging jealousy, I realized after it was all said and done that I had witnessed sports history being made. I have no doubt that in 30 years, when we all look back on the game of golf and remember the great player that Tiger was, we will all remember “the chip.”