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2002: The year of the bunker shot

Tiger Woods called it his best shot of the year, a 3-iron from an awkward stance in the bunker, immediately over the lip, eventually over the trees, to a flag 202 yards away on the 18th hole at Hazeltine.

"Quite honestly, it was one of the best shots I've ever hit in my life," he said.

The trick is getting people to remember.

Of all the great shots struck during the 2002 season - Steve Lowery's double eagle at the International, Paul McGinley's par putt to win the Ryder Cup, Rich Beem's 7-wood to 6 feet for eagle at the PGA Championship - this was the year of the bunker shot.

Woods might as well get in line.

His shot was truly spectacular, one Woods and maybe a few others have the skill and moxie to even attempt. He had to stand close to the ball to keep his legs off the edge of the bunker. The wind was in his face. The slightest miss could have led to a big number.

The swing was perfect. The ball stopped 12 feet from the hole for birdie.

Then again, it was only the second round.

And Woods didn't win.

Mention "Tiger Woods" and "great bunker shots" in the same breath and what comes to mind is the Canadian Open two years ago at Glen Abbey, when he hit that 6-iron from 218 yards out of the bunker and over the water to clinch victory.

Two bunker shots that rank higher belong to Els and Paul Azinger, on stages that were just as grand, under situations that packed far more pressure.

Els' bunker shot on the 13th hole at Muirfield in the final round of the British Open was voted "shot of the year" by the British press.

He had a two-stroke lead when he found a pot bunker left of the 13th green. The wall was so steep that the 6-foot-4 Els could barely see over the top. The bunker was so small that he had to place his left foot on the sodded wall for balance.

Worse yet, the ball was nestled in a furrow from where the sand had been raked, and he had to land it on a metaphorical sixpence - an old British coin the size of a dime.

With a splash of sand, the ball came out perfectly and stopped 18 inches from the cup.

Azinger's shot was even more spectacular because it went in.

One down to Niclas Fasth on the final day of the Ryder Cup, Azinger was in the bunker left of the 18th green at the Belfry. Only a birdie would keep Europe from winning.

He blasted out of a slightly plugged lie and the ball hopped into the cup, giving the Americans a flicker of hope. Had the United States retained the cup, Azinger's shot might have gone down as the greatest moment in Ryder Cup history.

Alas, great shots are only memorable when accompanied by a trophy.

That's why Els' bunker shot ranks as the best of the year - a combination of supreme skill under stifling pressure with a trophy riding on the outcome.

Rounding out the top 10 bunker shots:

Els on the 18th hole at the British Open: In the first sudden-death playoff in Open history, Els pulled his 5-iron into the bunker. With his right leg flexed on grass, he blasted out to 5 feet and made the par putt to win the Open.

The shot was more important than No. 13, but not nearly as difficult.

Phil Mickelson on No. 16 at the Ryder Cup: In an alternate-shot match Saturday morning, partner David Toms' approach plugged under the lip of a steep bunker, some 40 feet from the cup. Using a 9-iron and his imagination, Mickelson swung hard and squeezed the ball over the lip, along a ridge and within 3 feet for a critical tap-in par.

"That was one of the best shots I've ever hit," said Mickelson, who, like Woods, is not one for hyperbole.

Jim Furyk, No. 15 at the Memorial: With only 10 feet of green between his ball and the cup, Furyk's bunker shot rattled the pin and dropped for eagle. He finished with a 65, the best closing round by a winner in the 27-year history of the event.

Len Mattiace on No. 12 at the Nissan Open: Mattiace was desperate to make up ground on Scott McCarron when his approach sailed right into a deep bunker. Unable to see over the top, he holed the shot for birdie and went on to win his first PGA Tour event by one stroke.

Kevin Sutherland on the 36th hole of the Match Play Championship: The shot wasn't particularly difficult, but the situation was: $1 million and his first PGA Tour victory on the line. Sutherland blasted out to a foot and made par, winning 1-up when McCarron missed an 8-footer.

Woods on No. 2 at Doral: Woods drove into a greenside bunker on the 376-yard hole, then hit a high bunker shot that traveled 100 feet and dropped next to the hole for a tap-in birdie. He made up seven shots against Els in 11 holes, but still finished two strokes behind.

Woods on No. 18 at the Skins Game: Nothing special about the shot, only what followed. Someone clicked a camera during his swing, and caddie Steve Williams deposited the camera into the pond.


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