Date: April 02, 2009
Author: PA Sport

Norman ready for new chapter

When Greg Norman left Augusta National in 2002 he took with him a pair of crystal goblets and a host of memories. Many of them painful, of course. A closing 75 for a share of 36th place looked like being an undistinguished final episode – undistinguished, that is, apart from the eagle on the 15th which earned him the goblets – in a duel with The Masters that went all the way back to 1981. But now, thanks to his astonishing third-place finish in The Open last year, Norman has the chance to add another chapter to the story. And what a story. The first time he played the tournament he led after the first round and came fourth. In 1986 his bogey at the last gave Jack Nicklaus his 18th and final major. Twelve months later Larry Mize had his incredible chip-in to deny him. In 1989 he lost by one again. In 1995 he was third again. Then in 1996, having begun with a course record-equalling 63, he led by six with a round to go and crashed to a 78 to hand the title on a plate to his arch-rival Nick Faldo. That will be The Masters for which he is most remembered. He gave himself another chance in 1999, but the happy ending then was for Jose Maria Olazabal and not for him. No green jacket, no lifetime exemption then. To fight his way back in as he has ranks as one of his greatest achievements, even for a former world No.1. Whether he scores another 63 or 83, Norman&aposs return this year will be a week to savour – his son Gregory will be on his bag and tennis legend Chris Evert, who last June became his second wife, will be sharing the experience too. Indeed, his daughter Morgan-Leigh could well be there as well since she is back dating Sergio Garcia. At 54 some might think he is too old to do anything more than a trip down memory lane on a course which now measures over 7400 yards. But Nicklaus has reminded him of the 1998 Masters. “I almost won it on one leg at 58, so a man who&aposs in a lot better shape than I was and younger can certainly do pretty well. His talent is still there,” said the six-time champion, who managed the last of his famous charges 11 years ago before slipping to sixth place. Like all sports fans, Nicklaus marvelled at Norman&aposs performance at Royal Birkdale. “I watched a fair amount of it and I thought that what he did is something that is pretty special to the game of golf,” he said. “I liken it a little bit to what happened to me in &apos86. Greg&aposs a champion and all of a sudden you play a good first round and you say &aposgee, that was nice. That was fun. Maybe I can do that again tomorrow&apos.” “Then you play a good second round, and all of a sudden you&aposre &aposgee, I&aposm really doing pretty well&apos. You remember how to play. It sort of lights a fire under you and you get excited.” “I think a lot of people were pulling for him and hoping that he would pull it off. He came very close.” Norman, who had been playing more tennis than golf in the run-up to the championship, led with nine to play, but could not match the blitz of playing partner Padraig Harrington over the closing stretch. Only when he was asked about it afterwards did Norman realise that third place still got him into The Masters. “I didn&apost think I&aposd ever get back into The Masters and obviously playing my way back I&aposm proud of doing that,” said the Australian. “I hadn&apost played much leading up to the British Open and then wham, bam, there it is.” He knows he cannot be cavalier with this build-up if he hopes to do himself justice. “If you&aposre going to go play in The Masters then you&aposve got to start getting your game into preparation. I&aposve had to get back to the special exercises which are golf-specific,” he said. “I know it&aposs been lengthened. I&aposve been up there with friends in the winter months and I hit a three-wood into 11, so the days of hitting eight-iron there are long gone.” “Admittedly that was January and it&aposs going to be different in April, but there is a dedicated focus leading up to it.” He insists he has fond memories of the event and the club. “Absolutely,” he said. “I still think Augusta is the purest golf tournament in the world. There&aposs no hype of corporate tents and all that stuff – you just go there and play golf.” “A lot of people don&apost like a dictatorship, but dictatorships work well when they&aposre done right. Augusta is managed and operated on an extremely high level and they do an extremely good job.” “Of course I&aposve had a lot of pain there, but I&aposm not going to single out Augusta and it was a huge turning point in my life.” “When I had that six-stroke lead and it didn&apost work out I was elevated in the public eye by losing, not by winning.” “That changed my life, I can tell you, dramatically, just by the outpouring of e-mails and letters and support that I got.” “I won in a lot of ways, but I didn&apost win the green jacket.”