Norman Faces Masters Demons, Again

AUGUSTA, Georgia -- There is a spot right at the bend in Amen Corner where the voice of Bobby Jones can almost be heard whispering through the Georgia pines, gently drawling the magic moments from Masters past.

Sarazen, Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus and Palmer -- and yes, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman. Part of the intrigue of Augusta is the unending ability of the Masters to top itself.

The gentle hill behind the 12th tee was one of Jones' favorite spots on Augusta, a place from which he could observe Nos. 11, 12 and 13 -- the dangerous stretch known as Amen Corner.

From that spot, against a spectacular backdrop of flowering azaleas and dogwoods, history has unfolded with alarming regularity.

Last year, Faldo was one-stroke down going to No. 11, two up walking off the 12th green and hit the best shot of the day -- a 207 meter 2-iron that turned the pressure knob up a few units -- on No. 13.

What unfolded in that stretch of holes was what Jones had in mind when he created this course and this tournament more than 60 years ago.

"Last year was the worst round of my life,'' Norman said Tuesday about Sunday at the 1996 Masters. "I don't want to keep thinking about it,'' he said. "The 11th, 12th and 13th -- I want to flush them out of my mind.''

While Norman may be able to push those holes out of his mind, they will never be erased from the memories of golf fans. Last year's Masters was one for the books.

When Ben Crenshaw won in 1995 just days after serving as pallbearer for Harvey Penick, his lifelong teacher, it seemed as if the Masters could do nothing to top that for pure drama and raw emotion.

A mere year later Faldo fashioned one of the greatest closing rounds in major championship history, and Norman endured the agony of squandering a six-stroke lead, the largest ever lost in a major.

"I played the golf course the way you intend to play it,'' Faldo said Tuesday. "It's as good as anything I've done.''

Faldo and Norman come in to this year's Masters dragging with them the baggage of last year's final round, a Sunday pairing that will forever link them in golf history.

Faldo has dealt with his return to Augusta in his usual, methodical way.

"I came up Sunday, which is good, to get everything organized,'' Faldo said. Before that he practiced at his home course at Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, where he had the greenskeeper shave the putting green to Augusta speed. Faldo took out the tapes of last year's Masters, but not for sentimental reasons. He wanted to study his head position when putting.

Norman prepared for his return to Augusta with a session Monday with motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who has worked with Miami Heat coach Pat Riley.

"He reminded me who I am and how good I am,'' Norman said. "Sometimes you forget that. I was reeducating myself.''

Clearly, Robbins was trying to help Norman put the memories of last year behind him. Searching for a way to describe what they worked on, Norman's eyes lighted up.

"We can all deal with flushing the toilet now and then and getting the crap out of your head,'' he said.

Then, turning serious, Norman got to the heart of last year's final-round showdown with Faldo.

"He put the pressure on me,'' Norman said. "He created it. He did all the things you have to do to win a major championship.''

Asked if he felt he deserved to win a Masters, Norman would only say: "I don't know how modest I want to be.''

Nicklaus in '86. Crenshaw in '95. Faldo in '96. What possible drama could unfold this week to top what happened last year?

Only a Norman victory could rival last year for pure emotion.