A panel of 15 golf writers was asked to vote on the best Masters. Stories about those tournaments are being republished this week because the Masters has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 1996 Masterswas voted No. 5. The following story was published on April 14, 1996.
By RON SIRAK
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Greg Norman simply found history too heavy to carry over the rolling hills and treacherous greens of Augusta National Golf Club.
For the sixth time, Norman took a lead into the final round of one of the Grand Slam events only to lose. But none was as shocking nor as complete as the unraveling that began on the ninth hole at the Masters and ended in the water in front of the 12th green.
In that four-hole stretch, Norman went from three strokes ahead to two behind, enabling Nick Faldo to play the kind of golf he does best — methodical, precise, controlled.
“I screwed up. I really screwed up,” Norman said after his shocking 78 on Sunday squandered a six-stroke lead, the biggest collapse in major championship history, and gave Faldo his third green jacket.
“It was all my mistakes today,” Norman said. “But it’s not the end of the world.”
Faldo, whose 67 was the day’s best score, ended the round with a birdie on the last hole and an embrace for Norman.
“I honestly and genuinely feel bad for Greg,” Faldo said. “I just wanted to give him a hug. What he has been through is horrible.”
By making up six shots on the final day, Faldo staged the third greatest comeback in major championship history. Jackie Burke came from eight strokes back in the 1956 Masters.
But no one ever went into the final round of a major championship with a six-stroke lead and lost.
“Maybe these hiccups that I have, that I inflict on myself, are meant for another reason,” Norman said. “Maybe something good is waiting for me down the line.”
If there is any course where such a lead can be squandered and ground made up quickly, it is Augusta National under the intense pressure of a final-round Sunday at the Masters.
“It’s the most nerve-wracking course in the world,” Faldo said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Faldo finished at 12-under-par 276, five strokes ahead of Norman and six better than Phil Mickelson. But the only two players on the course who really mattered were Faldo and Norman.
It was reminiscent of the third-round confrontation between Faldo and Norman at the 1990 British Open at St. Andrews. Playing together, they started the day tied and Faldo beat him 67 to 76 and went on to win the championship.
Norman would have needed only an even-par round in the final round to win.
“Obviously, I didn’t play as well as I could,” Norman said. “Things didn’t go my way. Nick played solid and steady and it was all my mistakes.”
While Norman, who has finished second in a major championship eight times, had to carry that history with him, Faldo had the comfort of his past successes.
In 1989, Faldo trailed Scott Hoch by three strokes going to the back nine at Augusta and won in a playoff. The next year he trailed Raymond Floyd by two strokes going to the last nine and again won in a playoff.
Now, only Jack Nicklaus with six and Arnold Palmer with four have won more Masters than Faldo and only 10 players in the long history of golf have won more major titles.
It was Faldo’s first victory in a major since the 1992 British Open.
Faldo got into the spirit of the showdown between the two dominant golfers of the last decade on the first hole when he chose to putt out from 2 feet rather than marking, putting added pressure on Norman’s 4-foot par putt. He missed.
Faldo got within three strokes with a 22-foot birdie on No. 8, then Norman fell apart.
He spun his approach shot back off the ninth green and missed a 10-foot par putt after a poor chip. He missed another 10-footer for par on No. 10 after missing the green left and three putted No. 11, missing the par putt from 30 inches.
Then on No. 12, for the second straight day, Norman left his tee shot short in Rae’s Creek. While he was able to recover for a great bogey on Saturday, this time he made a 5.
“I just pushed it,” Norman said. “But the only shots I’d like to have again are the approach on No. 9 and the chip on 10.”
Faldo was content to make pars during this stretch and pulled two ahead.
“I had to put my head down and grind as hard as I could,” Faldo said.
Both players birdied the two par 5s, Nos. 13 and 15. Then Norman ended any chance he had when he hit into the water on the par-3 16th hole.
Faldo finished his fabulous day by making a birdie on No. 18 from out of the fairway bunker.
The previous biggest blown lead in the Masters occurred when Ed Sneed took a five-stroke lead into the final round of the 1979 Masters, won by Fuzzy Zoeller in a playoff with Sneed and Tom Watson.
After a record-tying 63 in the first round and then two gutsy middle rounds of 69 and 71, it looked as if Norman would take a big step toward shedding a reputation started a decade ago when he led all four of the majors going to the final round and won only one.
Since that notorious Saturday Slam in 1986, Norman has been branded as someone at his best only in a runaway, of not having a swing that holds up under pressure.
Norman led the ’86 Masters by a stroke entering the final round but finished a stroke behind Jack Nicklaus, who closed with a 65. Norman still had a chance going to the last hole but bogeyed when he hit his 4-iron approach into the gallery well right of the green.
The next year he lost the Masters in a playoff when Larry Mize holed a 140-foot chip on the second playoff hole. Last year, Norman needed a birdie on No. 17 to move into a tie for the lead but pulled a simple 90-yard sand wedge 45 feet left of the hole and three-putted.
Norman’s worst previous collapse was in the 1986 PGA Championship when he led by four going to Sunday, shot a 76 and finished two behind Bob Tway.
Stuck at only two majors — the 1986 and ’93 British Opens — and never having won one in the United States, golf’s greatest money winner still is deemed an underachiever.
Nowhere was that more pronounced than at the Masters where he has now finished in the top six eight times without winning and had a four-year stretch from 1986-89 where he finished second, second, fifth and third.
None, however, could have been as painful as this one.
The panel of voters: Jeff Babineau, Morning Read; Michael Bamberger, golf.com; Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post; Iain Carter, BBC; Steve DiMeglio, USA Today; Doug Ferguson, Associated Press; Bob Harig, espn.com; Rex Hoggard, golfchannel.com; Derek Lawrenson, The Daily Mail; Tod Leonard, golfdigest.com; Jim Litke, Associated Press; Jim McCabe, pgatour.com; Bill Pennington, New York Times: Dave Shedloski, golfdigest.com; John Strege, golfdigest.com.