Interview: Sir Nick Faldo on beating Greg Norman at the 1996 MastersApril, 2016 The Masters
Sir Nick Faldo on the brilliant Sunday when he hauled in Greg Norman to turn a six-shot deficit into a third Green Jacket. By Mark Townsend
It has been 20 years since two of golf’s greatest names – Nick Faldo and Greg Norman – helped produce one of the most astonishing final rounds in the sport’s history.
Sunday April 14, 1996 will forever be linked with the unforgettable day when Norman threw the Masters away with a shocking final round of 78.
A first Green Jacket was within touching distance for the Aussie, however a six-shot lead over England’s Nick Faldo turned into a five-stroke deficit by the end of the day, Faldo’s clinical 67 giving him a five-shot win.
But what was equally as impressive was the way the two superstars handled themselves after a highly emotional round.
In a touching moment on the 18th green, Faldo embraced Norman in a huge bear hug.
The Englishman, who has wrongly been perceived by many to be unemotional, showed his class by not over-celebrating.
Instead, his first thought after securing his third Green Jacket was to console Norman in a fantastic show of sportsmanship.
Norman remained the ultimate professional by staying for the entirety of his press conference and answering the difficult questions with refreshing honesty – it was just one of those awful days at the office.
“I screwed up. It’s all on me. I know that,” Norman reflected. “But losing this Masters is not the end of the world. I let this one get away but I still have a pretty good life. I’ll wake up tomorrow, still breathing, I hope. All these hiccups I have, they must be for a reason. All this is just a test. I just don’t know what the test is yet.”
But it shouldn’t be forgotten that Faldo played a superb round and under huge pressure to bag what would be his last Major.
Most memorable was a fizzing 2-iron to the heart of the 13th green, otherwise it was just relentless brilliance. As Norman stumbled Faldo kept on hitting fairways and greens in the low round of the weekend.
And, for a player who had won both his Green Jackets at the 11th hole in play-offs, he could finally enjoy the walk up 18.
HOW THE LEADERBOARD CHANGED
First Round 1st Norman 63, -9 • T6 Faldo 69, -3
Second Round 1st Norman 69, -12 • 2nd Faldo 67, -8
Third Round 1st Norman 71, -13 • 2nd Faldo 73, -7
Final Round 1st Faldo 67, -12 • 2nd Norman 78, -7
I played with Greg on the Saturday and I was disappointed when I missed an eagle putt on 13 and bogeyed 16 with a 9-iron in my hand. My swing was a bit off so I headed to the range.
I don’t know what my confidence level was on the Sunday. I remember thinking, if I shoot three under and he shoots three over that would be the six shots. So my plan was to get within three after nine holes.
All week I carried a 5-wood; an old persimmon 5-wood which I hit 215 yards every time. On all the par 5s, at 2, 13 and 15 during the practice rounds, Fanny (Sunesson) dropped a ball at 215 yards and I hit my 5-wood. Amazingly I didn’t use it at all during the week until the 13th on Sunday when I had 215 yards to the middle. So I grabbed my 5-wood but it would not sit flat on that sloping fairway.
I wasn’t comfortable with it so we discussed the yardages to the front, middle and back. I then decided to hit a 2-iron and I nailed it. I knew that I had ripped it straightaway, I hit it sweet.
It was very solid. It was one of the shots of my lifetime, let alone that day (laughing).
After 12 I was two clear and then it was mine to lose and I was doing all my breathing exercises. You don’t ignore what Greg was doing. I knew exactly what was going on but I still had to go play my game.
But I watched him very closely. I saw everything. I was in a cocoon all day. I was not as confident as I was in the early 90s so that was a great mental effort to hold it together and win.
It was my best Masters Sunday. The 67 was the lowest round for the weekend, that’s how tough it was. That’s how firm the greens were. I definitely would deem that as one of the greatest rounds I ever played.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the previous two wins. I felt comfortable playing there. But to be honest, on that Sunday, the two past experiences did not go through my mind. I was totally in the now time.
THE 18th GREEN
The hug wasn’t planned. I genuinely felt for him. If I had a six-shot lead and had blown it, I would be scarred for life. Needless to say we haven’t spoken about it since.
On the green it was an amazing feeling to turn and look at the leaderboard and double-check the numbers and realise that I had won again. Now it feels like I was part of one of the most memorable and talked-about finishes. I love going back, it’s really a most special gathering under the tree because it’s a gathering of golf. Your whole history and golf’s whole history and golf’s future is there.
She was great. It was her first time there and she loved every step of the week. She still loves to come to the Masters.
We are both perfectionists. In those days, a caddy made their own yardage book. She talked to the greenkeepers to find out in real detail what was going on across the course. What really helped me the first time she went in 1990, when I was defending, was that I introduced her to the course and as we walked it hole by hole. I described my plan to her and it was an amazing visualisation exercise for both of us.
THE CHAMPIONS DINNER
The best dinner I hosted was fish and chips in 1997. Everybody ate it. We flew the cod, chips, mushy peas and vinegar in from England.
If I was to host another I would make the Nick Faldo spaghetti bolognese with Cumberland sausage.
THE PLAY-OFF IN 1989
I am in sudden death with Scott Hoch, trying to win my first Masters and it was my 26th hole of the day due to bad weather. Andy Prodger was on my bag as he was at Muirfield two years previously.
I hit the green to 25 feet and I said when we were by my ball, “What do you think, Prodge?” And he said, “It all looks a bit of a blur to me, gov!”
Luckily I holed the putt.