Norman proof that Masters offers no guarantees

It was written in the stars. With their powerful long games, silky smooth swings and superstar swagger, it was simply a question of when, not if, they would win the Masters.

Norman proof that Masters offers no guarantees

Fast forward to 2014 from the heady days of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s when Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and Greg Norman were in their pomp, and a 24-year old from Northern Ireland is now that man — the Chosen One.

Ranked the 8-1 favourite to don the famous green jacket here on Sunday evening, Rory McIlroy is regarded as the man to beat. And yet as he makes his sixth appearance at Augusta National this week with Tiger Woods flat on his back in Florida, it may surprise some to hear that McIlroy has yet to record a Top-10 finish in the Masters.

Yes, he is a former world No 1, a two-time Major winner and a player who held a four-stroke lead with a round to play in 2011 that could easily have been 10 shots, so well did he play.

But the rest, as they say, is history. McIlroy shot 80 on that fateful Sunday afternoon three years ago and while he would go on to win that year’s US Open and the 2012 US PGA by eight strokes, his Masters record is still a spotty one.

Weiskopf knows how that feels.

He was 6ft 3ins and had a swing to die for. But while he won the British Open in 1973, he came second in the Masters not once but four times.

Ernie Els was denied by Vijay Singh and most famously by Phil Mickelson in 2004. But when it comes to Masters mishaps, Norman is the daddy of them all.

He already had two seconds, two thirds and a fourth-place finish on his record when he took a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo into the 1996 Masters. At last, he was about to win the coveted green jacket, the first Australian to do so.

As the late Observer golf writer Peter Dobereiner told him jocosely on Saturday evening: “Even you can’t fuck this up from here, Greg.”

But he could. As Faldo shot a clinical 67, Norman slumped to a 78 to finish five behind the Englishman.

It was little wonder then that Norman was one of the first people to call McIlroy in the days following his 2011 meltdown.

“He knew more than anyone else how I was feeling at that point,” McIlroy recalled before going on to crush the opposition in the US Open at Congressional. “And he said a couple of things to me that I found very useful and sort of put into practice… like to create this little bubble around yourself and don’t let any of the outside interference come into that.”

The Great White Shark also had chances to win the Masters in 1981, ’86 and ’87 but walked away empty-handed each time. He had nine top six finishes — including threerunner-ups— and yet he insists he loses no time crying over what might have been.

Do the bad days pop into his head from time to time?

“Absolutely. But only when you guys ask me questions about it,” he joked.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and go, ‘oh shit, 1996’.

“Believe it or not, I don’t have any pain. I had disappointment with myself for 1996 but the one that people really don’t talk about is ’81.

“I was leading the golf tournament after 36 holes and I was so naive, such a rookie that if the right one or two people were around me that Saturday morning or Sunday morning, it might have been different.

“I finished fourth behind Tom Watson in the end but I needed advice because I was so naive, so raw. My golf skill I didn’t doubt one bit. I had the confidence oozing out of my body.”

McIlroy heeded Norman’s advice from 2011 and is now a far more focused and slightly more inaccessible figure, especially during Majors.

It appears to be only a matter of time before be finally puts four rounds together at Augusta but, as Norman knows, there are no guarantees.

“Well, Rory has got time on his side. You could easily make the statement that he will win the Masters. But that has been said about Ernie Els and myself and Tom Weiskopf. You can go down the list a long ways. Johnny Miller.

“So everybody said, those guys will win. Time will tell.”

Norman is impressed by the way McIlroy came back that time and again this year following the Holywood star’s much-publicised 2013 troubles. But his heartbreaking moments weren’t just limited to Augusta National and if McIlroy keeps contending for Majors, his disappointments will also mount.

“It’s going to happen again,” Norman said. “It’s happened to Nicklaus, Palmer, it’s happened to every player who plays the game in the upper echelon. It will always happen.

“Not everything is going to go your way. It depends on how you react to whatever that situation was.

“It’s not about the negative but about how you are going to go forward. Look at Adam Scott — from Lytham to Augusta. In a matter of 10 months, he just turned it all around.”

It appears written that McIlroy will turn it all around at Augusta some day. Will it be this year? Maybe.

All Norman knows is that there are no guarantees. Even for the Chosen One.

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