Norman's major fall opens door for Faldo Masters collapse biggest in history of major championships

Six-shot lead squandered

Victory at Augusta is Briton's third

April 15, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 60th Masters will be recalled forever as Greg Norman's Greatest Choke, and Nick Faldo knows it.

"I hope I'm remembered for shooting a 67 on the last day and storming through," Faldo said, "and not what happened to Greg."

That would be the biggest collapse in the history of golf's four major championships. Faldo finished 12-under after that sterling 67 to become only the seventh man to win the Masters three times, but the more compelling numbers at Augusta National Golf Club were provided by Norman, who had a pitiful 78 to crawl in five strokes back.

Five men had held five-shot leads entering the final round of a major and lost, but no one had ever blown a six-shot cushion until Norman did so yesterday.

Norman, an Australian who does everything big, has long been the master of the final-round fold. Five previous times over the last decade, he had been the sole leader in a major after 54 holes. Only once had he come home a winner, but none of his earlier wrecks approached yesterday's flameout.

"Well, I played like - - - - ," Norman said, using an expletive to describe the manner in which he failed to deal with the pressure applied by Faldo and the tournament which he has most wanted to win. "Even if I had played halfway decent, it would have been a good tussle with Nick. Call it what you want, but I put all the blame on myself."

Was it the biggest disappointment of his career?

"Yeah," he said, "it probably would be at the end of it all."

After his spectacular fall, the first person to comfort Norman was Faldo, who embraced him on the 18th green.

"I just said I want to give you a hug," said Faldo, an Englishman who has been Norman's greatest rival over the last decade. "Simple as that. There's a few other bits, but you ain't going to know from my archives."

Norman said he didn't need consoling, but only a sadist could have enjoyed the way he blundered through the last 10 holes. Over the first three rounds, Norman had one bogey on the back nine, but yesterday he bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11, and double-bogeyed both of the par 3s, dousing his chances of a comeback with meek tee shots that ended in the water.

Norman's fall led to a six-stroke swing over five holes.

For all of his trouble on his approach shots on the front side, Norman still walked onto the eighth tee with a four-stroke lead. He walked off the green at No. 12 down two, however, and all of his Zen philosophy, back treatments and swing jargon couldn't right him.

Faldo began the swing with a birdie at the par-5 No. 8, then let Norman come back to him. Norman bogeyed three straight holes, and the tournament might as well have been over when his 7-iron at No. 12 landed on the bank, and bounced back into Rae's Creek for the second straight day.

On Saturday, Norman salvaged a bogey there, but this time it was a double. That opened the match-play portion of the Masters -- Phil Mickelson came in third, by the way, as if anyone noticed -- and Faldo clearly relished the head-to-head competition.

Saturday night, before he cut short a testy interview to head to the practice range, Faldo said he might have a chance if he shot 65 or 66. He didn't get down that far, but he did have the best round of the day, and his 12-under total for the tournament was his best in a Masters.

"As the week goes on and the screws get tighter, it's a very tough golf course," Faldo said when asked his thoughts during Norman's collapse. "I was out doing my own thing. I'm in control of my golf ball, and that's it."

While Norman double-bogeyed No. 12, Faldo parred for a two-stroke lead. Faldo three-putted once all week, but he sounded more impressed with his club selection. That process tortured Norman on No. 13. Norman had to lay up on the par-5, and wait for Faldo, who hemmed and hawed between a 5-wood and a 2-iron.

"I thought I should lay up, but it was such a good lie," Faldo said, before he handily got on in two with the 2-iron , setting up the first of his three birdies on the back nine. "That crispy iron was the best shot I hit all week."

"That was for the whole shooting match right there," Norman said.

Faldo matched Norman's birdie at No. 15, and when the latter put another 7-iron in the water on No. 16, the clubhouse men were bringing Faldo's green jacket out of mothballs.

A day that began with Norman on top by six ended with Faldo ahead by five after one more birdie on No. 18. It was the margin manyexpected, but how many thoughtFaldo would be the winner?

"My true goal was to come in and have a really good week," said Faldo, who had been a non-contender in the majors over the last few years. "Not to be in contention for a while and finally come back and pull it off was really pulling your nerves out there. You never know when you've got another win in you."

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