When Hideki Matsuyama took the green jacket at the US Masters, it was a historic day in the history of golf. The world number 25’s victory made him the first ever Japanese player to win a major tournament, and as the news hit the airwaves, regular TV and radio broadcasts in his homeland were interrupted to share the tidings.
It was also a big day for the bookmakers. Augusta is always a magnet for golf online bets, and those who had backed Matsuyama before the tournament began had a 40/1 payout to collect. Yet even that pales into insignificance compared to some of the upsets the golf world has brought us over the years. Let’s look back on three of the most memorable.
Todd Hamilton (2004 Open)
As the golfers descended on Royal Troon 17 years ago, you could have been forgiven for saying “Scott who?” Hamilton had been on the periphery of the pro game since the 1980s, but it was not until 2003 that he finally earned a place on the PGA tour at the age of 38.
A first round 71 gave no clue of what was to come, when back-to-back 67s propelled him to the top of the leaderboard. After the final round, he was level with the great Ernie Els, and he held his nerve to win his first tournament. It was also his last, Hamilton disappeared into obscurity as quickly as he had arrived, and fell off the tour in 2010.
Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters)
Sometimes, other events remind us that it is only a game. In December 2007, South African Trevor Immelman underwent emergency surgery for the removal of a tumor on his abdomen. When he arrived at Augusta four months later, he was ranked 1,673 in the world, and was just relieved to be there taking part.
He shot a 68 in the first round to go joint top of the leaderboard, repeated the feat in the second round and managed a 69 in the third. It meant he went into the final round two shots clear, and despite a 75, nobody came close, and he won the title finishing three shots ahead of second placed Tiger Woods.
Paul Lawrie (1999 Open)
It’s back to Scotland for perhaps the most bizarre golfing upset of them all, however. The 1999 Open was held at Carnoustie, and Jean van de Velde went into the final round with a five shot lead over the rest of the field. Paul Lawrie, the world number 159, was not even on the horizon, 10 shots adrift of the lead. As late as the 17th hole, van de Velde was still in command, but then a triple bogey on the 18th left him unexpectedly exposed.
Lawrie, meanwhile, had had the round of his life, and teed off on the same hole tied for the lead. When minutes later he held his nerve to sink the birdie putt, it completed what was surely the biggest upset in living memory.