20140408

The Masters 1996: How ruthless Faldo hunted down the floundering Shark

The history of the US Masters is a catalogue of great sporting moments. Think of Gary Player's victory from eight shots off the pace going into the final day in 1978, the great Jack Nicklaus charge to win in 1986, Augusta's own Larry Hogan Mize winning a sudden-death play-off in 1987, Tiger Woods announcing himself to the world with a stunning victory by 12 shots in 1997; or, more recently, Bubba Watson's amazing shot out of the trees on to the green at the second extra hole in 2012, setting up an extraordinary win. 

There are many more. But none, perhaps, to match the drama of 1996, the year of what was labelled as one of the greatest chokes in the history of sport, let alone golf, when Greg Norman, The Great White Shark, had a six-shot lead going into the final round, bigger than anyone had enjoyed since the Masters was first contested, yet somehow contrived to let it slip away.

As disaster stalked him through every step, Norman shot a 78 against Nick Faldo's 67, his seemingly impregnable lead turned into a five-shot deficit.  By the time it was all over, a crowd that had expected to witness a joyous victory parade to celebrate Norman's 16-year quest for the right to wear the green jacket instead resembled mourners at a funeral, afraid to look him in the eye as he passed them on the fairway or stepped up on to the green.

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Faldo sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th, which in other circumstances would have been a glorious crowning moment.  But even Faldo, a man with a reputation for cold, ruthless professionalism, a man with troubles of his own as he negotiated an expensive, high-profile divorce, could not detach himself from his opponent's pain.  On retrieving his ball from the cup, he gathered the Shark in a hug and, as if he were an executioner suddenly filled with remorse, apologised for winning.

It is an iconic moment that has revisited in a new book by the golf writer Andy Farrell, who analyses the final round hole by hole in Faldo/Norman: The 1996 Masters - A Duel That Defined an Era.

Norman's emotional turmoil is lived out again as Farrell peers into the psyche of both players, already well established adversaries in a long-standing rivalry.  His portraits of the pair are accompanied by first-hand accounts from the day and the opinons of expert witnesses, exploring every nuance of the unfolding action.

Faldo/Norman: The 1996 Masters - A Duel That Defined an Era (Elliott & Thompson) is available from Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith.

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