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Time fleeting for Norman at Masters

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001


Greg Norman can water ski behind his yacht and fly around the globe in a luxury jet. But all the money in the world cannot buy a green jacket, and Norman is faced with standing outside the gates of Augusta National, yearning for a way to get in.

Greg Norman can water ski behind his yacht and fly around the globe in a luxury jet. But all the money in the world cannot buy a green jacket, and Norman is faced with standing outside the gates of Augusta National, yearning for a way to get in.

When the Shark left the storied course Friday afternoon after shooting 82 and missing the cut, it may have been for the last time.

Norman is no lock to return. After playing 21 consecutive Masters, Norman must earn an invitation, one he long ago expected to have coming for life. At age 46, the reality that it likely will never happen is harsh.

"It's hard to sit here and think you'll never get another chance," Norman said after his round. "It's sad. This place may finally have done me in."

For the better part of a decade, Norman was the unquestioned favorite each year at the Masters. He finished fourth in his first appearance, in 1981, then had four consecutive top-five finishes beginning in 1986, the year he led after the third round, rallied with four consecutive birdies on the 14th through 17th holes to tie Jack Nicklaus, then sent an errant approach to the 18th and lost by a shot.

A year later, he was back again, narrowly missing a winning birdie putt on the 18th green, only to see Larry Mize hole a chip shot on the 11th hole in a sudden-death playoff.

Norman had six top-three finishes and eight top-five finishes. The most crushing near-miss came in 1996, when Norman took a six-stroke lead into the final round but shot 78 and lost to Nick Faldo.

"I never revisit the past," Norman said. "I don't get hung up on stuff like that. What's it going to do?"

Most figured Norman was done after the Faldo fold, but he returned after shoulder surgery in 1999, tied for the lead with six holes to go, a huge fan favorite who couldn't close it out. He played to the finish in 2 over, and Jose Maria Olazabal slipped on another green jacket.

The future is uncertain. Norman is ranked 45th in the world, with the top 50 at the end of the year receiving a Masters invitation. He also could come back by finishing among the PGA Tour's top 40 money winners or posting a high finish at another major championship. As a last resort, the Masters committee could give him a pass as a special foreign invitee, even though the Australian has lived in Florida for years.

"Of course, I would have loved to have won here, but it's not the be all and the end all," Norman said. "It's just when you've been involved for a long time in the history of the tournament, you want the good side, too. The green jacket. Not for the jacket itself, but for what it means. Then you're a part of it for life."

PEER PRAISE: Several Masters participants hung around Sunday to watch Tiger Woods win his fourth consecutive major and be a part of history, including Rocco Mediate and Mark Calcavecchia, who interrupted post-round interviews to return to the 18th green. "I wanted to see it happen," Calcavecchia said. "It was pretty cool standing right there and watching him do that." Said Mediate: "I could hardly breathe watching him. I couldn't believe what I saw. I had to see it because we're not going to ever see it again unless he does it."

BIRDIES FOR CHARITY: The Tampa Bay Classic will have as part of its September tournament at the Westin Innisbrook Resort a Birdies for Charity program in which area charities can participate by soliciting pledges based on the number of birdies made during the four rounds of the tournament, Sept. 13-16. Last year, 1,206 birdies were recorded, so a 1-cent pledge would have meant $12.06. Each charity that participates will receive 100 percent of all solicited pledges. In addition, qualifying charities will participate in a $50,000 bonus pool. For more information, call (727) 789-2755.

AROUND GOLF: Annika Sorenstam will attempt to win her fourth tournament in a row this weekend at the LPGA's Office Depot event in Los Angeles. She is trying to become the third player to win four consecutive scheduled events. Mickey Wright did it in 1962 and 1963, and Kathy Whitworth did it in 1969. (Nancy Lopez won five in a row in 1978, but she took a week off.) ... Norman's Shark Shootout is moving from his Great White at Doral to his Tiburon in Naples in November. ... Norman and Fred Couples are faced with having to qualify for the U.S. Open at Southern Hills if they are not ranked among the top 50 in the world by May 1. Norman is hanging on at 45th, but Couples is 60th.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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