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The Biggest ‘Chokes’ in sporting history

Image courtesy of D.J. Plehowski on Flickr

Image courtesy of D.J. Plehowski on Flickr

Sunday 10th April, 2016, 10.25 p.m. Jordan Spieth sits 6 under par on the final round of a dramatic Masters weekend in Augusta and is set to brilliantly reclaim the green jacket, thus cementing his position as the most exciting golfer in the world. What happens next can only be described as a famous sporting ‘choke.’ Spieth surrenders a five shot lead, hitting into the water twice on the hazardous 12th hole, and Yorkshireman Danny Willett holds his nerve to become the 50th different winner of the illustrious tournament. Spieth’s game went to pieces, the pressure took its toll and he relinquished a title that every fan, pundit and probably even he himself assumed to win. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a ‘choke’ such as this in a sporting arena, and here we will look at famous examples of other such occasions.

Greg Norman at the US Masters in 1996

Staying with golf, Greg Norman’s famous capitulation in the same tournament 20 years previous to Spieth’s nightmare round must also be considered a major ‘choke.’ This egregious ‘choke job’ came during a period in the 1990’s in which Norman was considered the best golfer on the planet.  The Australian went into the final round at Augusta with a huge six-stroke advantage over Englishman Nick Faldo, but played a plethora of poor shots and finished a massive eleven shots behind Faldo.

South African cricket team – 1999 World Cup Semi-Final

Often accused of being one of the biggest ‘choke artists’ in the sporting arena, the South African cricket team’s worst day must surely have been in Leeds in 1999. Needing nine runs to go through to the final with one wicket remaining, Lance Klusener bludgeoned the first two balls of Damien Fleming’s over away for four runs apiece. With four balls left, the South Africans needed just one to win. The third ball saw Klusener mishit his shot and nearly led to a run out but Darren Lehmann’s throw was off target. The fourth ball was almost a carbon copy of the third, but Klusener decided, still with two balls remaining, that this was the time to run. A catastrophic mix up between Klusener and batting partner Allan Donald saw Donald run out and the game end as a tie, with Australia progressing to the final against Pakistan on the virtue of finishing higher than South Africa in the previous stage of the competition. The Australians would go on to win the tournament, leaving the South Africans wondering what could have been but for this horrific ‘choke.’

AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final

Leading 3-0 at half time against a depleted Liverpool side, AC Milan as good as had their hands on what would have been their seventh Champions league crown. Paolo Maldini and a Hernan Crespo brace had given the Italians a seemingly commanding lead, but Liverpool rallied to score three goals in five manic minutes. The fixture ended up going to a penalty shootout, with Liverpool going on to claim European glory after a string of Milan misses. Despite having a three-goal advantage, Milan had somehow thrown it all away.

Jana Novotna – 1993 Wimbledon final

Jana Novotna was on the verge of beating four-time champion Steffi Graf to lift the women’s title back in 1993. With the game tied at one set all, Novotna led 4-1 in the final set with a service point to move 5-1 ahead. She then proceeded to double fault and thus began one of the greatest tennis ‘chokes’. It took Graf no time at all to seize on the Czech’s error, winning all of the remaining games to take the set 6-4 and the title for fifth time.

Newcastle United – 1995/96 Premier League Season

Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side were a massive ten points clear at Christmas in the 1995/96 season. Keegan’s famous ‘I’d Love it if we beat them!’ rant was the catalyst for a dramatic collapse from the Geordie side, with Manchester United rallying and winning the title on the last day of the season, forcing Keegan to eat his words.

Any English penalty taker ever!

With the English being perennially renowned for taking poor penalties, we cannot help but to include this on the list. Whether it is Gareth Southgate blasting miles over the bar at Euro 1996, or Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Michael Owen all missing their spot kicks against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, our penalty taking record is frankly pathetic. Doesn’t that bode well for the upcoming European Championships in France this summer!

It is fair to say that Spieth was not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to choke in a sporting arena filled with pressure from the millions of spectators around the world.

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