In professional golf, victory is never assured until the final putt drops on the last hole of the Sunday round. Or during the playoff that follows.
With no maximum number of strokes for competitors on each hole, significant final-round leads can disappear quickly when the leader struggles or a pursuer goes on a well-timed birdie barrage.
The largest deficit overcome in one day at a PGA Tour event is 10 strokes, set in the 1999 British Open by Paul Lawrie. The biggest final-round rally by a champion at Fort Worth’s annual tour stop involved a seven-stroke comeback, completed by Nick Price in 1994.
As golfers convene for the upcoming Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial Country Club, we break down 10 of the largest Sunday rallies in tour history: five from other events and five that occurred at Colonial.
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From a numerical standpoint, the five largest Sunday rallies in PGA Tour history occurred at other venues. Each covered at least eight strokes. Two of the five unfolded in major championships: Lawrie’s 10-stroke comeback at the 1999 British Open over fast-fading frontrunner Jean Van de Velde and an eight-stroke rally at the 1956 Masters that allowed Jack Burke Jr. to defeat Ken Venturi.
Closer to home, Price’s seven-stroke rally to win the 1994 Colonial in a playoff over Scott Simpson remains the largest single-round surge in tournament history and was the largest comeback on the 1994 PGA Tour. Here’s a look at some Sunday comebacks for the ages in professional golf:
10 strokes: Lawrie began his final round in 14th place on a blustery day at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Jean Van de Velde, the 54-hole leader, started with a five-stroke lead over his closest pursuers. Lawrie, a Scot, fired a closing 67 in the difficult conditions, best round of the day. Van de Velde made Lawrie’s rally relevant with a triple-bogey on the final hole, blowing a three-stroke lead and setting up a playoff with Lawrie and Dallas resident Justin Leonard. Lawrie prevailed but the tournament is best remembered for Van de Velde’s epic collapse on the 72nd hole that included a drive into deep rough, a 2-iron approach that caromed off a grandstand into knee-high rough, an approach shot into a water hazard and another into a green-side bunker. Eventually, Van de Velde made an 8-foot putt for triple-bogey to join the four-hole, aggregate playoff that Lawrie won by three strokes.
Nine strokes: Stewart Cink had to work overtime to complete a nine-stroke rally and win the 2004 MCI Heritage event in Hilton Head, S.C. Cink closed with a final-round 64 to force a playoff with Ted Purdy, the 54-hole leader who finished with a 73. The two went to a sudden-death playoff, with Cink winning on the fifth playoff hole.
Eight strokes: Burke, a Fort Worth native who grew up in Houston, closed an eight-stroke deficit in the final round of the 1956 Masters to defeat Venturi, an amateur who held the 54-hole lead by four strokes. In windswept conditions, Venturi posted a final-round 80. Burke, who also won the 1956 PGA Championship, closed with a 71 to win in regulation.
Eight strokes: Kyle Stanley, winner of the 2009 Ben Hogan Award, became the most recent tour competitor to erase an eight-stroke Sunday deficit with his victory at the 2012 Phoenix Open. Stanley closed with a bogey-free 65 in his final round, which proved sufficient for his first tour triumph when 54-hole leader Spencer Levin backtracked with a 75.
Eight strokes: Venturi became the lone golfer involved in both ends of an eight-stroke Sunday rally at a PGA Tour event when he reeled in Art Wall, the 54-hole leader, with a closing 63 at the 1959 Los Angeles Open. Wall finished with a 73 to open the door for Venturi’s charge.
Seven strokes: It took two days, wrapped around a lengthy rain delay, for Nick Price to complete the largest final-round rally to claim a Colonial title in 1994. Price and 54-hole leader Scott Simpson were among 18 golfers required to return Monday morning to complete suspended final rounds. Price capped a closing 64 that included five consecutive back-nine birdies to force a playoff with Simpson, who closed with a 71. In the sudden-death playoff, Price birdied the first hole (No. 18) to claim his first of two Colonial titles.
Six strokes: Phil Mickelson posted a closing 63 to overtake Stewart Cink, the 54-hole leader, and win the 2000 Colonial. Cink began the final round six strokes ahead of Mickelson but carded a 71. Mickelson, tied for eighth at the start of Sunday’s round, made five back-nine birdies (Nos. 10, 11, 12, 15, 18) to clinch the comeback.
Six strokes: Fort Worth golf legend Ben Hogan began his final round chasing Raymond Gafford, the 54-hole leader, in 1952. But Gafford imploded with an 80, opening the door to multiple pursuers, and Hogan charged through it with a closing 67. He won by four strokes over runner-up Lloyd Mangrum, securing Hogan’s third of five Colonial titles. Gafford tied for fourth.
Five strokes: Sergio Garcia, the reigning Masters champion, used a Sunday surge to reel in 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson and become Colonial’s youngest winner in tournament history in 2001. Garcia, 21, was tied for seventh to start his final round. But he closed with a 63 while Mickelson managed a 70. Garcia’s rally was propelled by a front-nine 29.
Five strokes: Gene Littler began the final round of the 1971 Colonial in a tie for 12th place. But he ended it by accepting a plaid jacket after Julius Boros, the 54-hole leader, backtracked with a closing 76. Littler fired a 69 to finish one stroke ahead of runner-up Bert Yancey.