Furman Bisher: Greg Norman has green jacket snatched away

Augusta's most notorious second-place finishers

Editor's note: In what was to be 2020 Masters week, we are walking down Memory Magnolia Lane with a look back at some of Furman Bisher's columns from the tournament. Bisher died in 2012 at the age of 93 having covered 62 of the 75 Masters. Selah. Today: Nick Faldo wins after Greg Norman collapse. The column appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 15, 1996.Yesterday: Ben Crenshaw wins emotional Masters

AUGUSTA — Well, Greg Norman dropped off the face of the earth. The green jacket he had in his gunsight for three days was repossessed. He didn't win the Masters. Again.

Nick Faldo did. Again. It was a job of coat-snatching, plain and simple. He won it just as surely as Norman lost it. It wasn’t a giveaway. It wasn’t a repeat of that last round at Muirfield, when he won a British Open with 18 pars. He shot 67. Norman shot 78. That’s a swing of 11 shots, adding up to a third Masters championship, which was as much a surprise to him as it was to the devastated loser. Norman has won tournaments in 13 countries, but never in Georgia.

Wait up a minute. “I’m not a loser. I’ve won several times. I’m a winner,” Norman said. “This is one I let get away, but it's not the end of the world. Nick played great. I played poor. That’s golf.”

What the U.S. Open became to Sam Snead, the Masters has become to Norman, who has come so close so many times, and been knocked down. It has become the tournament he can't win, and after this, after losing a six-stroke lead on Sunday, it becomes more probable that it will be denied him forever. So the story was the man who lost the championship, not he who won it.

Let there be no mourning at the bar, however. Arnold Palmer teed off Sunday morning in 1959, leading Cary Middlecoff by a stroke, but six strokes back lurked the mild-mannered, somber Art Wall. Wall birdied five of the last six holes and left Palmer two strokes behind. Palmer still came back and won the Masters three more times.

The course of Norman's round might have been forecast on the first tee. He pulled the drive onto the ninth fairway, bunkered the approach and bogeyed. But I recall the year that Larry Mize beat him in a playoff, Mize's first pop out of the box on Sunday was a tee shot through the trees to the ninth fairway.

Considering Norman's fall from grace, it was the kind of day that several players could have made it a free-for-all, but of those within range, only Faldo made the big move. Phil Mickelson's short game betrayed him. After opening at 65, his next three rounds amounted to a lost stroke. There were two 68s, by Davis Love and Mize himself, a couple of 69s but no one else but Faldo broke 70.

For all the probing and leading questions, Norman found difficulty convincing the pressing media that he wasn't contemplating suicide. He was an especially jovial chap for one who had let another prize get away at Augusta.

“Yes, I’m disappointed. Yes, I’m sad. I want a green jacket,” he said with emphasis. “But it’s not the end of the world. I’ve had a pretty good life. I have a philosophy. There must be a reason. There must be something good down the road waiting for me.”

He did pitch in with one scary thought. “I could have been good at anything I tried. I could have been a brain surgeon,” he said. But you blow a six-stroke lead in surgery, you lose more than a green jacket.

A few weeks ago, the Cobra Golf Co. was sold, and his interest brought him $40 million. The loss here was a financial pittance by comparison, but there again, winning a Masters can’t be weighed in cash.