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THE MASTERS | Golf

More Anguish Awaits Norman

April 10, 1999|THOMAS BONK

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He wore all black. He was way intense. He had a grim look on his face. He looked like bogey warmed over.

Yes, Greg Norman was at it again Friday at Augusta National. But there he was, out there on the course, wasting a perfectly gloomy afternoon by shooting low, dropping birdies all over the place and causing people to yell "Shark" instead of "Duck!" as he moved into contention at the Masters.

He probably felt really good about it, but Norman really shouldn't. Clearly, he needs to get a grip. The fact is, this is absolutely terrible news for him.

Why in the world is he doing this to himself?

Everybody knows that all he's going to do is get his heart broken one more time.

It has actually become something of a ritual. Here are the things you can always count on in Augusta: The flowers will be pretty, there will be a Waffle House on every block and Norman will collapse so fast you would think Tim Herron had sat on him.

The Masters with Norman is kind of a sad stage play. In it, Norman plays the part of bread and Augusta National plays the part of toaster.

It may only be Saturday morning, meaning we're hours from the next episode of Norman tragedy, but everything seems on track so far. Norman is in the middle of things after his second-round 68, only three shots behind leader Jose Maria Olazabal.

This means that Norman is in perfect position for his patented nose dive into Masters misery.

This isn't exactly uncharted territory for him. Not for a guy who turned making breakfast into a kitchen fire.

To be fair, sometimes Norman was pushed and sometimes he tripped over his own feet. Sometimes it was both.

In 1986, Norman was the third-round leader and was treated to Jack Nicklaus' 65 on the last day that beat him and Tom Kite by one shot.

Norman birdied Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to tie Nicklaus and had just 175 yards to the pin on 18. He drew a four-iron and immediately lashed the ball into the gallery.

If that one hurt, there was Larry Mize chipping in from the right side of the 11th green to beat Norman in a playoff in 1987.

Norman had missed a 22-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have ended it before Mize, who worked the Masters scoreboards as a kid, found he had Norman's number.

But the big one, Norman's really bad, ugly, psyche-mashing, ego-flattening nightmare happened right here in 1996. You probably remember it.

Norman says, no, he doesn't, but you have to think his credibility is slightly suspect because he also insists a barbie is a barbecue grill and not a doll.

In that Masters, Norman shot a 63 to lead the first round. He shot a 69 and led the second round, and his third-round 71 meant he had a six-shot lead when the fourth round began.

The lead was insurmountable. All he had to do was keep the ball on the fairway and the greens. He could win if he putted the ball with his shoe. Norman probably spent all night trying on jackets in front of his mirror.

But on the first tee Sunday, Norman stepped up and promptly knocked his drive so far off line, his ball rattling in the trees sounded like castanets.

And that was only the beginning because it got worse. Even Nick Faldo felt sorry for Norman. It's no fun watching a guy melt into a pool of ooze right in front of you.

Faldo wound up winning by five shots and Norman wound up with a 78 and an unwanted piece of history. No one had ever come from so far ahead after three rounds to lose in a major championship.

Since then, Norman has been forced to devote a great deal of his valuable time to the issue of himself and how poorly Augusta National has treated him.

For the record, Norman says the place doesn't owe him anything, he is at peace and he isn't haunted by the Masters . . . although the clam chowder in the players' lunch room is sort of scary.

Now, Norman enjoys people prying into his emotional state about as much as having dogwood branches jammed in his ear, so he was quite happy to end such a discussion after his round Friday.

Norman sounded as if he likes being a sentimental favorite, because he's 44 and not because he's some pitiful soul with a hole in his heart.

He said he didn't know what his destiny might be. He said he didn't even know the definition of destiny.

Well, here's some help, Greg. Destiny is what happens to you. For great players, destiny is what happens to you in major championships.

So maybe destiny hasn't been all that kind to Norman at this place, but that doesn't mean it won't change. Right?

You've got to be kidding. Norman's destiny at the Masters is a four-iron into the gallery. A tee shot into the trees. An approach shot into the water. A green jacket worn by somebody else.

And Norman can't be that surprised either because it has all been done before. So Norman might as well get used to it, even though as far as a destiny goes, this one kind of stinks.

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