Looking at the biggest blunders in major history

Updated: July 17, 2007, 8:31 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Here's a fun drinking game for you this week:

Every time Jean Van de Velde's name is mentioned is reference to his 1999 collapse at Carnoustie, take a swig.

Whether you get into the spirit of the competition with your favorite bottle of Scotch or simply sip some tea while munching on crumpets, the effect will be the same. Expect your thirst to be quenched early and often.

That's because Van de Velde's blunder -- we can't bring ourselves to use the "c" word; you know, the one that's part of your car's carburetor, the one the Heimlich Maneuver prevents, the one that rhymes with Scott Hoch (more on him later) -- is among the most dizzying in major championship history.

But it's not the most egregious major mishap of all-time. Herewith, the top 18 blunders ever, listed in reverse order of ugliness. Call it the Cringe Countdown.

18. Arnold Palmer, 1966 U.S. Open

The situation: After firing a torrid 4-under 32 on Olympic Country Club's front side, Palmer led by seven strokes with nine to play on Sunday afternoon.

The blunder: There was no specific moment of fallibility, but Palmer simply couldn't keep up the early momentum, following with a back-nine 39 to finish in a tie with Billy Casper.

The result: Casper bested Palmer by four strokes in the Monday playoff, leaving Arnie's career U.S. Open victory total forever intact at one.

The blunder-o-meter: Meanball

17. Mike Reid, 1989 PGA Championship

The situation: The man called "Radar" owned a three-shot lead through 54 holes at Kemper Lakes and extended it to six by the time he got to the back nine on Sunday.

The blunder: Reid went into a tailspin on the back nine, making bogey on 16 then adding a double-bogey on the par-3 17th as Payne Stewart passed him on the leaderboard.

The result: After breaking down in tears following the loss, Reid failed to contend in another major for his career, though he did win the 2005 Senior PGA.

The blunder-o-meter: Meanball

16. Tom Kite, 1989 U.S. Open

The situation: Kite led by one entering the final round and extended the differential to three after making birdie on the third hole.

The blunder: At the par-4 fifth hole, Kite hit his tee shot into a creek, leading to a triple-bogey as he surrendered the lead. Things didn't get much better from there, as he stumbled to an 8-over 78 -- the highest final-round score, by three strokes, of anyone in the top 15.

The result: By the time he hit the final stretch, Kite was a non-factor as Curtis Strange was claiming his second consecutive U.S. Open title.

The blunder-o-meter: Meanball

15. Ed Sneed, 1979 Masters

The situation: Entering the final round with a five-stroke lead, Sneed was steady throughout the opening 15 holes, retaining a three-shot differential with three to play.

The blunder: This is what those in the blunder business call a trifecta. Sneed's par putt on 16 hung on the lip and failed to drop. His par putt on 17 again hung on the lip and again failed to drop. And his par putt on 18 looked good, but -- you guessed it -- didn't drop.

The result: Even with the bogey-bogey-bogey finish, Sneed reached a playoff with Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson, but lost to Zoeller on the second extra hole.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanball

14. Thomas Bjorn, 2003 British Open

The situation: After making bogey on 15, Bjorn still held a two-shot lead with three to play as he headed to the par-3 16th hole.

The blunder: Bjorn's tee shot found the daunting greenside bunker on the hole's right side, requiring a delicate chip to get up and down for par. Instead, he left his first two swipes in the hazard en route to a double-bogey. He would follow with a bogey on the next hole as well, dropping five strokes in a three-hole span.

The result: In what was often referred to as "carnival-like conditions" at Royal St. Georges, Bjorn forever will be remembered as the lead clown, finishing one stroke behind unknown winner Ben Curtis.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanball

13. T.C. Chen, 1985 U.S. Open

The situation: Leading by four strokes on the fifth hole, Chen was seeking his first career major championship title.

The blunder: Buried in deep greenside rough, Chen's wedge shot made double contact with the ball, resulting in two strokes on the scorecard. He went on to three-putt for a quadruple-bogey 8, erasing his entire lead.

The result: Chen shot 77 to lose by one shot to Andy North and received an enduring nickname to boot. T.C., which stood for Tze-Chung, was forever known as "Two-Chip Chen" after this gaffe.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

12. Hubert Green, 1978 Masters

The situation: Green led by seven strokes entering the final round, then shot even-par 72 on Sunday.

The blunder: Though a quick check of the record books might show that Green was simply undone by Gary Player's 8-under 64, the 54-hole leader still had a chance to force a playoff on the final green. Standing over a 3-foot birdie putt, Green was about to make a stroke when he heard a nearby radio announcer and backed away. When he repositioned himself, he slid the putt just slightly to the right.

The result: Player made up one of the largest final-round deficits by a winner in major history, while Green failed to claim his second title in 12 months.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

11. Arnold Palmer, 1961 Masters

The situation: The defending champion, Palmer led by one over Gary Player (who was already in the clubhouse) heading to Augusta National's final hole in a Monday finish.

The blunder: Like Player, Palmer dumped his approach shot into the back bunker. Unlike Player, he could not get up and down. Instead, Palmer saw his shot fly into the nearby gallery, then chipped onto the green and two-putted from 15 feet for double-bogey.

The result: Though Palmer received vindication with another win the next year, Player took home the green jacket in '61, his first of three.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

10. Sam Snead, 1939 U.S. Open

The situation: Snead needed only a par on the par-5 final hole at Philadelphia Country Club to claim his first career U.S. Open title.

The blunder: Chalk this one up to technology -- or a lack thereof. With scoreboards scarce in those days, Snead was informed by one observer that he needed to make birdie to finish as part of a three-man playoff with Byron Nelson, Craig Wood and Denny Shute. He aggressively played a second shot from the rough with a wood, then took two attempts to escape a greenside bunker, leading to a triple-bogey.

The result: Despite a storied career, Snead would never win the Open, as Nelson claimed his second major title in a 36-hole playoff.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

9. Ben Hogan, 1946 Masters

The situation: In the first post-war Masters, Hogan was in the driver's seat for his initial victory at Augusta National coming down the stretch.

The blunder: Needing a birdie to win outright and a par to force a playoff with Herman Keiser, Hogan reached the green in regulation, but rolled his 2-foot par putt past the hole to seal his fate.

The result: It took five years and a celebrated comeback from a near-fatal automobile accident, but Hogan finally won his first Masters in 1951.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

8. Byron Nelson, 1946 U.S. Open

The situation: Nelson was in contention for his sixth career major victory at Canterbury Golf Club.

The blunder: Walking down the fairway during the third round, Nelson's caddie inadvertently kicked his golf ball, resulting in a one-stroke penalty for his player.

The result: The penalty dropped Nelson into a three-way playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and Vic Ghezzi, won by Mangrum the following day.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanball

7. Doug Sanders, 1970 British Open

The situation: Playing in the final pairing at St. Andrews with Jack Nicklaus and leading the Golden Bear by one going to the final hole, Sanders needed only a par to claim his first major title.

The blunder: After leaving his approach shot some 30 feet from the pin, Sanders rapped his birdie attempt to within 3 feet. The par putt had a bit of left-to-right break and just as Sanders addressed it, he bent over to remove some non-existent sand from the line (it turned out to be a blade of brown grass) and never reset himself, pushing it wide right.

The result: Though Sanders did make bogey to finish in a tie with Nicklaus, he lost by one stroke in a playoff the next day.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

6. Scott Hoch, 1989 Masters

The situation: Deadlocked after 72 holes, Scott Hoch and Nick Faldo squared off in a sudden death playoff.

The blunder: Hoch reached the first extra hole -- No. 10 on the course -- in regulation, but rolled his makeable birdie putt 2 feet past the hole. He then proceeded to examine the line from every angle, even getting over the putt and backing away at one point. He pushed it 5 feet past the hole before sinking that putt for bogey.

The result: Hoch lost to Faldo on the next hole of the playoff and never won a major in his career.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

5. Ian Woosnam, 2001 British Open

The situation: After nearly making a hole-in-one to begin the final round at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, Woosie took a one-stroke lead heading into his second hole of the day.

The blunder: Standing on the tee box, Woosnam's caddie, Myles Byrne, said, ""You're going to go ballistic." "Why?" the player asked. Byrne replied, "We've got two drivers in the bag." Woosnam promptly removed the second driver -- left over in his bag from the practice range -- and fired it at a nearby tree. The two-stroke penalty remained, however.

The result: Visibly shaken, the Welshman made par on the second hole, but followed with bogeys on 3 and 4 en route to a final-round 71 that left him in a share of third place, four strokes behind winner David Duval.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

4. Phil Mickelson, 2006 U.S. Open

The situation: In search of his third straight major victory and first career U.S. Open title, Mickelson led by one stroke going to the final hole.

The blunder: Despite a round full of wayward tee shots, including a 17th hole drive that landed in a trash bag, Mickelson decided that 4-wood off the tee wouldn't be enough to leave him with a comfortable approach shot, so he opted for driver. Bad call. Lefty pushed the ball, sending it ricocheting off the roof of a hospitality tent en route to making double-bogey.

The result: Though Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk each made final-hole blunders of their own prior to Mickelson, his errant drive serves as the ultimate reminder of his riverboat-gambler mentality. Like he said afterward, "I am such an idiot."

The blunder-o-meter:MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

3. Greg Norman, 1996 Masters

The situation: Much like 10 years earlier, Norman seemed to be on the precipice of his first career Masters title, leading six strokes entering the final round.

The blunder: Anywhere and everywhere, really. Norman saw a 10-shot swing with eventual champion Nick Faldo over the final 12 holes, as his tee shot on the par-3 12th that landed in Rae's Creek remains the straw that broke the camel's back.

The result: The Shark never would gain champion status at Augusta National, as this loss served as the eighth -- and perhaps most painful -- major runner-up of his career.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

2. Jean Van de Velde, 1999 British Open

The situation: Three shots clear of Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard heading to Carnoustie's final hole, Van de Velde knew he could make double-bogey and still earn the Claret Jug.

The blunder: What didn't go wrong? The Frenchman pushed his tee shot, then hit his approach off a TV tower and into thick rough some 60 yards from the hole. He then chunks one into the Barry Burn, removes his spikes and socks while contemplating hitting from there, takes a drop, hits wedge into a greenside bunker and finally finds the green.

The result: After actually saving triple with an oddly "clutch" 8-foot putt, Van de Velde lost in a playoff to Lawrie, who remains the last European to claim a major championship.

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

1. Roberto De Vicenzo, 1968 Masters

The situation: After finishing birdie-bogey, De Vicenzo apparently was headed for a playoff with Bob Goalby to determine the champion.

The blunder: So distraught was he by the final-hole bogey that the Argentinian mistakenly carded a 4 rather than the 3 he actually scored on the 17th hole. Before realizing the error, De Vicenzo signed the incorrect scorecard, thereby incurring a one-stroke penalty.

The result: That penalty was enough to give the green jacket to Goalby, while De Vicenzo was simply left muttering this famous line: "What a stupid I am."

The blunder-o-meter: MeanballMeanballMeanballMeanballMeanball

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.