Another let-down in a career of might-have-beens

Andy Farrell, assesses a major talent that has always had difficulty winning majors
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The Independent Online
Greg Norman has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt but as he teed off yesterday he still did not have a Green Jacket to wear. Not that elusive jacket he wanted so badly. He still hasn't got one.

To a man who usually gets there quicker than anyone else, gets it done faster, and has his own Great White Shark Clothing Company to produce those T-shirts, it was a strange position to find himself in.

Norman's is a life in the fast lane, be it cars, jet fighters, helicopters or making an obscene number of birdies in outrageously low scores. But at Augusta the red figures had always been followed by red lights. His journey to the champions' locker-room has been a crawl in rush-hour traffic.

Yesterday he could have been forgiven for thinking that his 16-year wait to win a Masters title was over. In the end, though, Augusta had another nasty surprise waiting for him, and perhaps the biggest disappointment of a career that has been littered with might-have-beens.

"Irrespective of what happens," Norman had said on Saturday, "I'm going to enjoy every step I take. You have got the chance to win the tournament. I have got a chance to win the Masters. I've been there before. There is no better feeling that having a chance to win a major championship."

And no worse one than throwing one away, perhaps. For all his exceptional talent, Norman has won only two majors. Not having a major to his name in America, where he makes his home and dominates the US Tour could not be explained rationally. He has won more money than anyone else - $9.5m (pounds 6.33m) before this year - and has a higher percentage of top-10 finishes than anyone except Jack Nicklaus.

Not that he would get much sympathy in the locker-room. Norman is the golfer who has everything. "Most guys are jealous," said Brad Faxon. "He's got the great look, the black clothes, the black hat, the blond hair. And players say, 'yeah, he's got all that money, so it is easy to go at every flag'. But it is going for every flag that made him all that money in the first place. All the helicopters and jets, that pisses guys off too. They think he is big-timing them. but if he didn't buy the helicopters and the jets, they would call him cheap."

Norman's face stares down from the billboards above Times Square, but in a golf clubhouse he is as likely to be left alone as Nick Faldo. The Englishman's whole being states that he is here to win major championships, and he has now won six, one more than Seve Ballesteros. It is the same with Norman. No other players are better prepared and over the last 10 years, there have been few weeks when neither of them has been the world No 1.

Yesterday's final round pairing brought back memories of the 1990 Open at St Andrews when Faldo outplayed Norman 67-76. This time the scores were 67-78. Norman drifted for a couple of years as Faldo added more majors, but announced his return with an emphatic last-round 64 at Royal St George's in 1993 which was too good for Faldo.

It has taken three years for Faldo to put himself back in such a position in a major, but as Norman took control in Saturday's third round it seemed that Norman had asserted his superiority. In fact they were only playing out their allotted roles as sprinter and marathon runner.

Both like to fish. Faldo, 38, could not be happier than on the banks of the River Test; Norman goes in for shark fishing and deep sea diving. "We enjoy each other's company and each other's ability to play the game," Norman said. "We shared a joke out there. We have had a good rivalry since 1976. But you have to keep your mind focused on your own job. I don't think he pays attention to my game and I don't pay attention to his game. I don't go up and say, 'Hey Nick, how are my four and five-footers?' "

Both men wanted to head to the practice ground after their third rounds, but while Norman lingered at his press conference, joking with some of the American writers, Faldo was in less effusive mood. Asked how Norman was playing, Faldo replied: "Good. Did you make a note of that?"

The Faldo philosophy is to carry on regardless, oblivious to everything else. As he slowly reeled in Norman yesterday, it brought back his words of earlier in the week, "As a golfer, you put your head down, and you go and shoot a score. I'm in charge of my score, I can't influence anybody or anything else, so the rest is history." Once again, it was Faldo making the right sport of history yesterday.