Colin Callander reflects on what might have been had the Great White Shark got the major he so desperately craved
It’s 30 years since Greg Norman endured the first of what turned out to be two nightmare moments at Augusta National.
When Larry Mize holed his outrageous 140-foot pitch to defeat the Australian on the second hole of a sudden-death play-off at the 1987 Masters it not only cost him a coveted green jacket but also extended a run of near misses that in time were to come to define his career.
Norman may well be the unluckiest golfer in history and several of his darkest moments came at an Augusta National course which he professed to love above all others.
The record shows that Norman registered three runner-up and three third-place finishes in the Masters but that relatively meagre return certainly does not do justice to the massive contribution he made to the history of the event.
Back in 1986 the Australian was to get a taste to what was to come when he led the Masters after 54 holes only to lose by a stroke to a resurgent Jack Nicklaus. Worse transpired the following year.
During 1986 Norman led all four of the majors going into the last round but that Saturday Slam resulted in just one victory at the Open Championship at Turnberry.
Elsewhere he carded a 75 to lose the US Open by six strokes to Raymond Floyd before being the victim of a smash-and-grab raid at the PGA Championship where Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the last to wrest the trophy from his grasp.
The odds on something similar taking place at the very next major were astronomical but that is exactly what transpired. Seve Ballesteros went out on the first extra hole when his bid to win a third Green Jacket ended with a three-putt.
That left just Norman and Mize to battle it out and it was the unheralded local man – as a youth growing up in Augusta he used to man the scoreboards at his hometown tournament – who prevailed after the Golfing Gods adjudicated in his favour and ensured that a ball that was bound for the water on the other side of the green hit the flagstick and dropped into the hole.
Norman has subsequently admitted he took four years to recover from that reversal but what was to follow 10 years later at the same venue was arguably to scar him for the remainder of his playing days.
In 1996 Norman set the pace with a record-equalling opening 63 to be as much as six shots clear at the start of the final round. He was then consumed by his relentless playing partner Nick Faldo.
The Englishman shot 67 against Norman’s 78 but those statistics do not tell us the whole story. Golf is not normally a brutal game but there was something almost animalistic about the manner in which Faldo dismantled his opponent that afternoon.
Norman was known as the Great White Shark but in this episode he was the hunted rather than the hunter and the pressure imposed by Faldo proved far too much for him to bear.
The Australian’s lead had been cut to three by the eighth but three successive bogeys from the ninth saw Faldo draw level before the Englishman found himself two in front when Norman took five on the short 12th. The pair then shared birdies on the 13th and 15th, something many people forget, but the Australian dropped two more shots when he hit his tee shot into the water on the 16th and that was effectively that.
The Green Jacket he had craved for so long was no longer in his grasp. Instead the demons that that always seemed to encircle him at Augusta had struck again.
It was Norman’s eighth second-place finish in a major and it was to be the last. He did to go on to produce a pair of third places at the 1999 Masters and the 2008 Open, at the ripe old age of 53, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear he was never quite the same again.
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