Norman glad to be there
is a scene played out in every professional golf tournament around the world,
every day, many times a day.
partners arrive on the tee, shake hands with each other and when their names are
called to drive off they acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.
when Jose Maria Olazabal and Greg Norman went through the same routine on the
first hole of Augusta National today there was a sense of more than the normal
pleasantries of golf.
the two men, major winners both, to be the last pair in the last round of the
last Masters of the millennium was a special moment.
each wanted to win. Badly. Really badly. But more than that, they were glad just
to be there.
hanging on to his one-stroke lead despite a third round 73 in which his driving
and his putting let him down, was watching the Masters on television three years
ago when Norman lost a six-shot lead, not sure whether he would ever play in the
event again or indeed whether he would ever walk again.
44 years old now and sufferer of so much Augusta heartache over the past two decades,
underwent shoulder surgery after missing the halfway cut last year. He was out
of the game for seven months and had people wondering if he would ever contend
they were, with David Duval and Tiger Woods, the two men on whom most of the pre-tournament
spotlight fell, fighting to catch up with them and with a dream victory in their
is the first time I've put myself in a situation like this since my return,"
said Olazabal, who spent 18 months away from the sport fighting a foot problem
initially diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, but then altered to a herniated disc
in his lower back.
won his third tournament back in 1997, but now he had a chance to repeat his 1994
Masters triumph and he added: "Just giving myself a chance of winning is
a great feeling."
33-year-old Spaniard admitted it was "very emotional" when the fans
rose to applaud him during the taxing third round, when he lost the lead first
to Lee Janzen, then to Davis Love, but then got it back.
what it would be like if he could do the same in the final round.
the same goes for Norman, three times a runner-up in the Masters, whose collapse
to a closing 78 in 1996 brought a worldwide wave of sympathy for the Australian.
always said I don't live in the past," he said. "What's done is done.
I've never been a believer in crying over spilt milk.
never doubted my ability to put myself back in the position to win. But Jose and
I are proud as punch because we're back playing the game we know we can."
Olazabal was confined to his home, crawling from bedroom to living room, Norman
made a point of staying in touch - and Olazabal did not forget.
did the same after my shoulder surgery last year," said Norman. "He
was one of the few players who called or dropped a note.
means a lot because it means he's not only a competitor of yours, but a friend."
recalls the 1996 Masters trauma of Norman. "I don't want to see anybody going
through an experience like Greg went through.
felt sorry for him. It was sad to see. My relationship with Greg is a close one.
He was always in touch when I was having my problems."
third round 71 was a dramatic roller-coaster and his playing of the short 12th,
Augusta's most famous hole, will live long in the memory.
leader at the time, his tee shot flew over the slender green into bushes and a
five-minute search failed to find it.
official asked me if I wanted to ride back to the tee and that's the last thing
I wanted," he said.
wanted to take my time and gather myself. As I walked back it seemed like there
wasn't one individual in that group of people back there who didn't want to see
me not hit the green (with his second ball).
could actually feel the emotion coming out of them. The same going down to 13,
the same walking down 15 and 16. That's the most I've ever felt on a golf course.
felt some good stuff at the British Open and Australia, but that's the most I've
ever felt in the United States."
did hit the green with that second ball and when he sank a putt of nearly 30 feet
for a bogey four destiny seemed on Norman's side for once.
it stayed there was about to be discovered as he shook Olazabal's hand today,
acknowledged the cheers of the crowd and turned his mind to the task in hand.