Commentary

Hoch's 1989 tale part of Masters history

Originally Published: April 2, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The air turned cold. The misting rain became an annoyance. Darkness began to envelope Augusta National Golf Club, and as Nick Faldo stood to the side of the 10th green, he was helpless to do anything about his predicament.

Several yards away, Scott Hoch stood over a 2-foot putt, ready to win the 1989 Masters in a sudden-death playoff. He had missed an opportunity to win the tournament in regulation with a birdie putt on the 18th, one hole after having bogeyed No. 17 to fall into a tie.

Faldo, who had rallied with a final-round 65 and was still 5 strokes back with seven holes to play, was about to see those efforts wasted.

Or so you would think.

"I said to myself, 'I can still win this bloody thing.' That's what I said," recalled Faldo, now 51. "It's kind of weird. But that's what I thought."

What happened next is part of golf lore, a Masters moment for the ages -- if not one that Hoch cares to dwell on.

Hoch missing that short par putt was a major championship gaffe. The ball didn't even hit the hole.

Twenty years later, Hoch has come to terms with his brush with immortality. Now 53 and competing on the Champions Tour, he won 11 times on the PGA Tour, played on two U.S. Ryder Cup teams and earned nearly $20 million.

But the botched putt remains his legacy. For a time, the phrase "Hoch as in choke" was used derisively to describe him, although he went on to win eight of his titles after that Masters and climbed to as high as 11th in the world in 1997.

"It was a great experience, but you would have liked to have finished it off better than that," Hoch said recently. "I don't think about it anymore ... except when someone brings it up. But for a while there, you can't help it. You strive to win major tournaments ... I certainly would have loved to win that, but I didn't."

Hoch remembers a fan yelling out after the 16th hole that he needed just two pars to win the Masters.

That caused a momentary lapse that led to a poor drive on the 17th hole, his tee shot hitting a tree and bounding into the 15th fairway. Hoch regrets not trying to regroup on the tee before hitting the shot. From there, he was unable to make par and fell into a tie with Faldo.

Hoch narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 18th hole, finishing with a 3-under-par 69 that tied at 283 (5 under par) with Faldo -- who had birdied the 16th and 17th holes.

Faldo's route to the top was much different. After an opening-round 68, he was a stroke behind surprise leader Lee Trevino, who at age 49 was the story of the day. A second-round 73 left him tied with Trevino, but Faldo then shot a third-round 77.

Weather interrupted Saturday play, part of it completed Sunday morning, when Faldo seemingly fell out of contention.

Masters Best Ball Challenge

"I had it all planned what I was going to do and did it all wrong," said Faldo, who will work the Masters as an analyst for CBS this year."I was hoping to shoot 2-under for those last six holes, and I shot 2-over. I was really down about that.

"I went back and had breakfast. I changed putters, went on the putting green, worked on it. I went out, and I was playing with [1987 Masters champion] Larry Mize. He said, 'Play well, have fun.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'll be able to have fun.' But I had a 40-footer at No. 1, made it and I was off. It was like a different ballgame when things like that happen. I did everything right."

But when Faldo bogeyed the 11th hole -- he bogeyed it during all four rounds -- he was 5 shots back.

He rallied to force the playoff, one he appeared hopelessly out of after hitting his approach at the par-4 10th into a greenside bunker and making a bogey.

Hoch had run his birdie putt past the hole and only had to cover those 2 feet of green grass to earn a green jacket.

And he missed.

"What happened was I lined it up left. That's what I figure," Hoch said. "I've seen [the replays.] I've seen it from behind, most of the pictures. It felt fine; the stroke felt fine. I wanted to put it just inside the hole. I just lined up wrong. I felt comfortable.

"People were saying about me not hurrying up and putting it the first time, but the same thing happened on 17 tee. I wasn't going to have it happen again. I was standing over the putt thinking, 'Man, I'm going to win the Masters.' And that was the wrong thing to think about. And I kind of forget what I had read in the putt. That's when I thought, 'I have to get my head straight,' backed off and looked at it again and went and putted.

"I was perfectly ready. It was the right thing. It was the right thing to do at the time. I just didn't make it. I would have been really ticked off at myself if I had putted the first time with the wrong thoughts in my head and to have missed it. It would have driven me crazy. At the time, I did the right thing and got my mind where I needed to make the putt, and I just didn't."

And so they moved to the par-4 11th, where Faldo drained a 30-foot birdie putt to win the first of his three green jackets.

Hoch would never come so close again. He did tie for seventh in 1995 and for sixth in 1996 -- his only other top-10s in the tournament.

A few weeks later, Hoch won the Las Vegas Invitational, and throughout his career, he was regarded as a consistent performer. From 1982 through 2002, he finished among the top 40 money winners every year but 1992, when he had shoulder surgery. And he won five times after turning 40.

All these years later, Hoch would prefer not to talk about it. But he does. And he is philosophical.

"In the end, it really doesn't make that much difference," he said. "When you're dead and gone, it doesn't make that much difference.

"For about 10 or 12 years, yeah, it does. You would have been financially better off; TV would treat you better. But that's the way things go. I had my chance. It wasn't a fluke I lost. It was disappointing."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com