He teed off in the final round six shots clear of playing partner and nearest challenger, Nick Faldo, seven shots clear of Phil Mickelson and a country mile clear of the rest of the field. He had played impeccable golf for three rounds and appeared to have seen off the Faldo challenge in the third round by increasing his tournament lead from four shots to six. It was of course the 1996 US Masters and ‘he’ was the ‘Great White Shark’, Greg Norman.
Up until 1996, Norman had long been regarded as the best player in the world, Faldo did assume the number one ranking for a couple of years at the time when he was winning five ‘major’s in the late 80s early 90’s, but overall it was Norman who had the most ability. Indeed until the 1996 Masters he had finished second or tied second in seven ‘Major’s’ and had fifteen other top ten finishes in ‘Major’s’ but amazingly had only managed to win two, which had come in the Open Championship in 1986 and 1993. Surely the 1996 US Masters was to be his third!
Norman’s first tee shot of the day perhaps told the crowd more than it needed to, but he hooked it into the trees and went on to make a bogey. He followed that up with a long putt to save par on the third, but bogeyed the fourth and then hit his third bogey on eight. Faldo meanwhile was going about his business in his usual pragmatic manner, playing each hole on its merits, relying on course management to provide the ‘birdie’ opportunities and they came on the 6th and the 8th with birdies at each. Faldo was all of a sudden in contention and only 3 shots behind and the formidable Augusta 4 hole turn was coming up.
Norman began it poorly, bogeying the 9th which Faldo parred making the difference just two shots. It is worth pointing out that Norman had played the back nine on the first three days in 11 under par and he quickly realized that he needed to stay on par with that level of scoring otherwise he was going to be involved in another major battle with Faldo which at that moment in time he was going to lose. However, Greg made a ‘pigs ear’ of a simple chip on the tenth, sending it eight feet past and missing the return putt for a second successive bogey; the writing was on the wall and the ‘Shark’ was only one shot clear of the two time US Masters Champion, Faldo.
If Norman was beginning to believe that it was not going to be his day, then he would have known it wasn’t at eleven. He hit two wonderful shots to within ten feet of the hole, it was a great birdie opportunity but unfortunately the birdie putt lipped out and the tiny putt back decided to do the same. The two men were level!
Norman fans began leaving the course, not bearing to watch any more of the spectacle, their hero was in trouble and looking like he was heading for more as the full agony of his plight began to unfold.
At the 12th Norman went into the water, which cost him a double bogey, Faldo, as usual parred and was now in control of the tournament with a two shot lead and only six holes to play.
The two players both birdied the 13th, both parred the 14th and both birdied the 15th, but only after Norman had believed he had bagged an ‘eagle’ on the 15th with his first putt narrowly sliding by, forcing him on to his knees before toppling over as if he had been shot. He clearly believed that he had pulled one shot back. Nonetheless he still had three holes to get back the two shots and his game had steadied at least.
However, the ‘gremlins’ were soon back to haunt him, his tee shot at the 16th found the ‘drink’ and the best he could do was a double bogey, while his nemesis parred once again. Faldo had just about won his third green jacket and only a Norman type disaster over the final two holes could prevent him from winning it.
We all know of course that no such disaster occurred; Faldo went on to fire his best round of the week a 67, while Greg finished with a 78 an eleven shot swing – it was the biggest final round lead ever lost and it rewarded Greg Norman with an eighth second place in a ‘Major’.
At the end of the round, Faldo sportingly Hugged Norman and apologized saying that “he just wanted to give him a hug and how horrible he felt about Greg losing in such a way”. Faldo never jumped for joy when the realization set in that he had won for third time sunk in, his only thoughts were for Norman and his gesture at the end has often been cited by Norman as one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to him.
Greg Norman missed the cuts in the next two US Masters but came close once again in 1999 when he finished third, three shots behind Jose Maria Olazabal. However, another Major eluded him for the remainder of his career and finished without a major to his name on US soil, finishing second on at least two separate occasions in all three of the Masters, US Open golf and PGA Championship. The Open Championship was his only major success, winning it on two occasions in 1986 and 1993 but that final round in Augusta must continue to haunt him to this day.