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Norman gets special invite to Masters

The major championship that has haunted Greg Norman throughout his career is giving him another chance. He received a special invitation Tuesday from Augusta National Golf Club to play in next year's Masters.

``I'm not one to say a course owes me one, but given my record there and the fact that I know Augusta so well, perhaps something special will happen in April,'' Norman said.

Norman has been a runner-up at the Masters three times, including his most memorable collapse in 1996, when he squandered a six-stroke lead against Nick Faldo in the final round by shooting a 78.

There also was his approach shot that sailed into the gallery on the 18th in 1986, when he needed a par to force a playoff with Jack Nicklaus. A year later, Larry Mize chipped in from 140 feet on the second hole of a playoff to beat the Shark.

Norman finished third three other times and was fourth when he made his debut in 1981. He also shares the course record (63) with Nick Price.

``There's no question that I've had a lot of great things happen to me at Augusta -- and some not-so-great things,'' Norman said. ``But they're all just memories now, and I know that everything that has happened at Augusta has made me a better person.

``I don't think there is an event anywhere that has brought me more enjoyment or shaped my development as a player as much.''

The 46-year-old Australian was the only player to receive a special invitation, which Augusta reserves for international players. It was the first time in 10 years that Norman did not otherwise qualify.

``Greg has provided our patrons with much excitement by his inspired and superior play during his 21 years at Augusta National,'' club chairman Hootie Johnson said.

The club changed its criteria after the 1999 Masters -- the year Norman was tied for the lead with five holes to play and finished third -- and offered invitations to the top 40 players from the PGA Tour money list and the top 50 in the world ranking.

Norman is No. 113 in the world rankings.

Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last month, Norman is coming off his worst year as a professional at the same time he is devoting more time to his array of businesses.

He finished fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational, his first tournament of the year, but never finished higher than 27th the rest of the season.

Norman missed the cut at the Masters with an 82 in the second round, did not try to qualify for the U.S. Open and pulled out of the British Open because of a death in the family. His only cut in a major was a tie for 29th at the PGA Championship.

He played only 11 times on the PGA Tour and forfeited his membership, limiting him to only 12 tour events next year. One of those will be at Augusta National.


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