Norman chases the rainbow

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Golf

TIM GLOVER

reports from Augusta

Every year Greg Norman has a cruel reminder that what is missing from his wardrobe is a green jacket. The winners of the Masters not only get their own bespoke blazer but exclusive use of the champions' locker room, and poor old Norman has to change with the mere mortals. Yesterday he tried to make light of the one that got away.

Norman was asked how many Masters he could have won had he had the rub of the green. "I don't think like that," he said. "I have been lucky in other things. It is not cast in stone that I have to win the Masters. I bet that there are some things that I've done that people who have won the Masters would like to do. I'm still chasing the elusive rainbow. My career's not over yet."

In fact, Norman firmly believes he will get better with age. "My best golf will come in the forties," he said. "My life gets better the older I get. You learn so much as time goes by." Norman is 41 and he has just played the worst golf of his career, missing two cuts in succession. "I'm not concerned about that," he said. "I didn't enjoy doing it but it might be a blessing in disguise. I don't worry about the past."

Asked what had suddenly gone wrong with his game, Norman replied: "My head. Certain things are meant to happen. They even out in the long run. It was just one of those weird things. It just disappeared." He said that on a scale of 10, he would currently register seven. "Missing those cuts might just tweak my mental approach. No other tournament generates such a feeling. This is pure golf. No corporate boxes, no tented village, perfect conditions."

Norman, the world No 1 and the dominant force in the game for a decade, had won only two major championships, the Open at Turnberry in 1986 and again at Royal St George's, Sandwich, in 1993. Despite his victory he has no soft spot for the Kent links. "I played great golf but it is not my favourite place. There are too many blind shots."

Nick Faldo, once the world No 1 and now down to eighth, has enjoyed the rub of the green at Augusta National, winning the Masters in play-offs in 1989 and 1990. "My desire is always the same with the majors," Faldo said. "I've been planning for this for six months. Experience will pay dividends. You need to know what you're doing, know your routes and know when to play aggressively and defensively. I've been playing nicely for the past couple of months and have just been waiting for something to happen... or waiting for this week."

Both Norman and Faldo believe the greens at Augusta National, traditionally almost as fast as lightning, will be at their quickest than for some years. Faldo reckons that on the stimpmeter, the device that measures the speed of the greens, the reading will be 13. In golf terms that's around Mach 1. "That's just the uphill ones," Faldo said. "You've just got to steer the ball into the flat spots, two-putt and get out of there."

Faldo left the European Tour for the greener grass of America 15 months ago. "Week in, week out you're playing in good conditions with great facilities, and the weather helps," Faldo said. "I'm getting more comfortable with these conditions and I'd like to think I'm ready for this week. This will be the severest test of nerve in golf. It becomes the feel factor. You can't just blast in, miss a green and get up and down. You can't do that here. If you're nervous and under pressure you've still got to hit great shots all the time. And you've got to be putting well."

Faldo is having treatment to a shoulder but says it is not causing him a problem. "I had a spasm and it took me a couple of days to work it out," he said. "I have warm-up rubs every morning and it's fine. As long as I'm fit and strong I have another seven or eight years with a realistic chance of winning the Masters. I'm sure someone in their fifties could win here. I'll bet Jack believes he can win."

Jack Nicklaus, who is 56, won the last of his six Masters titles in 1986 when Norman was joint runner-up. On Sunday he won the Tradition tournament on the seniors tour in Phoenix. "Jack will be a contender," Faldo said, "because he wants to do it."

Faldo also thought that his Ryder Cup partner, Colin Montgomerie, will have a good tournament. "He's playing very well from tee to green and it will come down to how well he putts. I think he's got it. He has the desire and he wants to play well in every tournament he enters. That's a very difficult thing to do. People don't give guys enough credit for playing well week in, week out and being on the leaderboard all the time."

When somebody mentioned Norman and the missed cuts, Faldo said: "Write him off quick. I think that's the end of him, really. He's gone.

"I'm not suprised that somebody misses two cuts in a row. I'm more suprised when someone misses five in a row, is a sixth alternate and then wins a tournament. If a guy is off his game for five minutes, he's off. I'm sure Norman is going to be a major contender this week."

The Great White Shark will not need reminding that the likes of Faldo and Big Jack and Gentle Ben and Little Woosie - and even Sandy Lyle - will be changing in the champions' locker room.

FIRST-ROUND DRAW FOR THE MASTERS

All times BST, US unless stated. * denotes amateur

1245 G Sarazen, B Nelson, S Snead (honorary starters)

1300 C Coody, marker

1309 G Brewer, D Ford

1318 T Aaron, B Casper

1327 B Tway, T Tryba

1336 P Azinger, D Gilford (GB)

1345 N Lancaster, K Triplett

1354 B Bryant, E Dougherty

1403 S Ballesteros (Sp), J Maggert

1412 T Kite, DA Weibring

1421 P Jacobsen, F Nobilo (NZ)

1430 J Sluman, B Faxon

1439 M McCumber, T Herron

1448 L Janzen, N Price (Zim)

1457 B Henninger, S McCarron

1506 A Palmer, *B Marucci

1515 S Lowery, M Roe (GB)

1524 I Baker-Finch (Aus), H Sutton

1533 P Mickelson, S Torrance (GB)

1542 D Waldorf, S Stricker

1551 S Hoch, P Stankowski

1600 R Floyd, D Frost (SA)

1609 J Gallagher Jnr, B Mayfair

1618 G Player (SA), *C Wollman

1627 W Austin, M Brooks

1636 B Glasson, B Estes

1645 L Mize, C Rocca (It)

1654 S Lyle (GB), K Perry

1703 M Calcavecchia, J Huston

1712 F Funk, P Goydos

1721 T Watson, S Elkington (Aus)

1730 B Crenshaw, *T Woods

1739 N Faldo (GB), J Daly

1748 B Langer (Ger), *J Courville Jnr

1757 J Nicklaus, M Campbell (NZ)

1806 J Haas, T Lehman

1815 C Strange, S Simpson

1824 D Love III, C Montgomerie (GB)

1833 F Couples, *G Sherry (GB)

1842 C Pavin, V Singh (Fiji)

1851 P Stewart, M O'Meara

1900 F Zoeller, G Norman (Aus)

1909 I Woosnam (GB), A Cejka (Ger)

1918 C Stadler, E Els (SA)

1927 H Irwin, M Ozaki (Japan)

1936 J Leonard, D Duval

1945 L Roberts, S Higashi (Japan)

1954 D Edwards, J Furyk

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