Norman on Rory's Augusta destiny: "Time will tell"

Norman on Rory's Augusta destiny: "Time will tell"
 Greg Norman. Picture © Brian Keogh

Greg Norman. Picture © Brian Keogh

Greg Norman will forever be associated with his Masters tragedy of 1996 when he led by six strokes from Nick Faldo with a round to play and was intimidated into a 78 by the relentless Englishman and eventually finished five behind. It was an implosion that was to be echoed by Rory McIlroy, albeit in different circumstances, in 2011 and a reminder that nothing is ever certain in the game.

Norman never claimed the green jacket he once appeared destined to win and while McIlroy is also considered a certainty to become the first Irishman to win the Masters, the Australian knows that nothing is set in stone.

The Great White Shark also had chances to win the Masters in 1981, 1986 and 1987 but walked away empty handed each time. He had nine top six finishes — including three runner-ups— and yet he insists he loses no time crying over what happened. 

Do the good bad days pop into his head from time to time?

“Absolutely. But only when you guys ask me questions about it,” he joked. “I don’t wake up in the morning and go, oh shit, 1996.

“Believe or not, I don’t have any pain. I had disappointment with myself for 1996 but the one that people really don't talk about is ’81. 

“I was leading the golf tournament after 36 holes and I was so naive, such a rookie that if I had had the right one or two people around me that Saturday morning or Sunday morning, it might have been different.

“I finished fourth behind Tom Watson in the end but I needed advice because I was so naive, so raw. My golf skill I didn’t doubt one bit. I had the confidence oozing out of my body.

“It’s easy to see now what you should done in those situations —  just keeping yourself in a very balanced position, keep away and have your caddie make sure that nobody comes in to your space.

“Chats with media would never happen until the end of the day. But it wouldn’t happen before. You’d get into your car in the morning and be purely focussed and free and your mind would be be free about what you need to do. That’s having a good team around you. It is a little bit different now.”

McIlroy appears to have taken a leaf out of Norman’s book and is now a far more focussed and slightly more inaccessible figure than the 21-year old boy who led by four shots going into the final round in 2011 but shot the worst final round by a leader in the history of the event — an 80 — to end up 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.

It appears to be only a matter of time before be finally puts four rounds together at the Cathedral of Pines but as Norman knows, there are no guarantees.

“Well, Rory has got time on his side. You could easily make the statement that he will win the Masters. But that has been said about Ernie Els and myself and Tom Weiskopf. You can go down the list a long ways. Johnny Miller. So everybody said, those guys will win. Those guys will win. Time will tell.”

McIlroy recovered brilliantly from his Masters disappointment of 2011 by winning the US Open by eight strokes just a few weeks later. Norman had phoned him a few days after his 80 at Augusta to offer words of encouragement and advice.

“He knew more than anyone else how I was feeling at that point. And he said a couple of things to me that I found very useful and sort of put into practice, especially weeks like this where there is so much hype," McIlroy said at the time.

"Like to create this little bubble around yourself and just try and get into that and don't let any of the outside interference come into that."

Norman is impressed by the way McIlroy came back that time and again this year following the Holywood star’s much-publicised 2013 troubles.

“It’s going to happen again,” Norman said. “It’s happened to Nicklaus, Palmer, it’s happened to every player who plays the game in the upper echelon. It will always happen. Not everything is going to go your way. It depends on how you react to whatever that situation was.

“It’s not about the negative but about how you are going to go forward. Look at Adam Scott - from Lytham to Augusta. In a matter of 10 months, he just turned it all around.”

While much has been written about Norman’s 1996 Masters reverse, few remember that he had a chance to win the 1986 Masters, famously captured by Jack Nicklaus with that closing 65.

“When I look back at ’86, Jack turned things around [in his business] career by winning that golf tournament. People were counting me out with four or five holes to go. But I came back and put  myself into position. People were saying, Nicklaus is going to win because Nicklaus is Nicklaus.

“I remember walking down 14 when he made that putt on 17. I remember because there is a gallery there now but there was never a gallery there before. I saw him pick up that putter and I said, oh shit. There was a roar and then you knew, you knew he was going to do something and take it home from there.

“I was playing with Nick Price in the final group. He’s Zimbabwean and I am an Australian so there are not going to be a whole lot of people following us. We walked to the 14th tee and there were maybe 30 people and a racoon and a possum sitting in a tree. And I turned to Nick and I said, ‘Let’s show these people that we are still in this tournament.’ So I birdied 14 and I think Nick may have birdied 14. I birdied 14, 15, 16, 17. All of a sudden I have come from four back to being tied for the lead.”

Needing a birdie to win, Norman fanned his approach to the 18th into the crowd and the rest is history. Nicklaus had shot 30 on the back nine to win his 6th Masters title and became the oldest Masters champion at age 46.

Amazingly.Norman is still inextricably linked with the Masters much more so than the Open, gave him his twos major victories.

“Tom Watson always felt that Oakmont was always his friend, even though he never won around there. I always thought Augusta was my lover because I do love everything about Augusta. I love the establishment, I love the membership, they’ve got so many great members up there. I go playing with friends up there in January or February. I feel like I’m going to a country club that I am a member at. I love the staff there. I walk in there and the guys remember in the 80s and 90s and the guy is still there. I don’t know why it is so great but it is.”

** Greg Norman was speaking at a Cobra-Puma Golf event