The biggest meltdowns in PGA Championship history

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

May 17th, 2021

The PGA Championship is the only major of the year held exclusively for professional players, and yet some of the worst rounds have transpired at this century-old event.

Before the 2021 tournament tees off at Kiawah Island on Thursday, let's count down the five biggest meltdowns in PGA Championship history.

Honorable mention: Kenny Perry, 1996

Fourteen-time PGA Tour winner Kenny Perry might have collected the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1996 PGA Championship, if he had stayed loose on the course.

In his home state of Kentucky, Perry carded a 68 to top the leaderboard in the final round at Valhalla Golf Club and subsequently joined the CBS broadcast booth to leisurely watch the rest of the tournament.

It turned out Perry still had some golf left to play, as Mark Brooks — who was in second ahead of Sunday’s round — birdied the final hole and forced a playoff.

Perry returned to the course, but his energy waned.

Brooks defeated the hometown hero with a five-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.

5. Greg Norman, 1986

In 1986, Greg Norman completed the "Saturday Slam," in which he led after 54 holes in all four majors that season.

Despite that run of success, he only came away with one title, at the Open Championship.

It looked like he might also add the Wanamaker Trophy to his collection, but "the Shark" floundered in the closing round at Inverness Club.

After he held a four-shot lead through the front nine of the final round, Norman double-bogeyed at 11 and fell back another stroke on 14.

Bob Tway, who began the day in second, tied Norman on the 17th, and from there, history was made at the Aussie's expense.

On the final hole, Tway's approach shot landed in a greenside bunker, while Norman's ball came to rest just off the green, about 25 feet away from the hole. 

Tway launched a chip shot, which miraculously holed out for birdie.

With the pressure on Norman to tie, he not only failed to convert on his next shot, but he missed his par putt and finished two strokes back.

4. Jason Dufner, 2011

Longshot Jason Dufner appeared destined to win the 2011 PGA Championship, with a five-stroke lead and four holes remaining.

Then, the unthinkable ensued at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Dufner hit his tee shot into the water and bogeyed his next hole, which he followed up with a bogey on 16, and another on 17.

Meanwhile, Keegan Bradley, who had triple-bogeyed 15, made birdie on the next two holes.

With the score tied, Dufner missed a six-foot birdie putt and bogeyed the second hole in a three-hole playoff.

In his first major appearance, Bradley swooped in and stole the PGA Championship from Dufner.

Dufner later got his redemption at the 2013 PGA Championship, where he scored his only major victory at Oak Hill Country Club.

3. Mike Reid, 1989

Looking to avenge his Masters collapse that season, Mike Reid hit the ground running in the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. 

He shot a 66 in the opening round, held a one-stroke lead after the second, and led by three strokes at the end of the third — which he had to complete Sunday morning, along with the final round, because of a weather delay.

Despite the extended workout Sunday, Reid maintained his composure, until he reached the final three holes.

On the 16th, Reid made bogey, after his tee shot hit the water. Then, on the 17th, he misplayed a greenside chip and three-putted for a double-bogey.

On 18, he needed to sink a birdie putt to force a playoff with Payne Stewart.

Reid came up short and finished with a 74 for the final round, while Stewart celebrated his first of three major victories.

2. Gene Littler, 1977

Two-time major winner Gene Littler built a four-stroke lead over Jack Nicklaus at the end of the third round and was on his way to a wire-to-wire win in the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach.

That is until Littler came crashing down on the back nine, where he bogeyed five of the next six holes.

After he started six strokes behind the leader, Lanny Wadkins tied Littler on the 18th to send the tournament to a sudden-death playoff, which was a first for a major championship.

Wadkins won on a six-foot putt for par on the third hole of the playoff.

He later became the only player to win and lose a PGA Championship in a sudden-death playoff, when Larry Nelson beat him in extra holes in 1987.

Littler, who carded a 76 in the final round, never finished better than 10th in another major.

1. Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, 2010 PGA Championship

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits saw two notable collapses.

The first occurred with Dustin Johnson, who just needed a par on 18 to secure his first major title.

Instead, with a one-shot lead, he bogeyed the final hole, which placed him in a tie for first and in position for a playoff.

However, upon review, officials determined Johnson had grounded his club in a bunker off the edge of the 18th fairway, which resulted in a two-stroke penalty and left the young golfer in a tie for fifth.

The more egregious collapse came from Nick Watney, who held a three-shot lead entering the final round.

From the start of Sunday play, Watney unraveled. He double-bogeyed the first hole and shot 43 on the front nine.

By the time he reached the 15th hole, he was 11-over par for the day.

He scored two late birdies to close with an 81 in the final round, which took him from first on the leaderboard all the way to a tie for 18th at the conclusion of the tournament.