- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Like so many other times in Greg Norman's confounding career, it was all there for the taking—the glory, the honor and of course the money. Too often he has fumbled these opportunities, but as the sun began to hide behind the gnarled cypress trees on the back nine of The Olympic Club in San Francisco on Sunday, Norman seemed serenely poised to take possession of the season-ending $3 million Tour Championship—and with it, the entire 1993 golf year.
With seven holes to play in the world's richest tournament, Norman held a one-shot lead over Jim Gallagher Jr., who was still drafting off his course-record opening round of 63. To all appearances this was the mentally and mechanically rebuilt Norman who had been so heroic in winning this year's British Open at Sandwich with a final-round 64 and so steadfast at the PGA Championship in August until the rim of the cup on the 18th hole at Inverness twice frustrated him.
For 65 holes Norman dominated the classic rolling fairways and small, subtle greens of Olympic—and a field comprising the top 30 money-winners on this year's PGA Tour—with driving and iron play so solid that it mitigated mediocre putting. A modicum of the same play over the last holes would win him the $540,000 first prize, which in turn would earn him the PGA Tour money title. That feat, together with the fact that Norman would achieve them while playing in a PGA Tour-member minimum of 15 tournaments, would force even the most envious of his peers to vote for him as PGA Tour Player of the Year over Nick Price and Paul Azinger. All of which would add rocket fuel to Norman's crusade to be acknowledged as the best golfer in the world. As much as at any other time in Norman's career, it was all there.
But just when he had everyone convinced this was a new, wiser and tougher Greg Norman, the old one who had ostensibly been buried in the linksland at Sandwich climbed back out of the grave and handed the tournament over to the relatively obscure Gallagher. After watching in disbelief as Norman butchered the 72nd hole with a killing bogey, the stunned winner admitted, "I kind of backed into that one." A few moments later, as he shook the hand of the fast-moving Norman in front of the scoring tent, Gallagher couldn't help but add, "Sorry about that, Greg."
It was sad indeed. After playing the first 11 holes of the final round in an airtight three under par, Norman bogeyed four of the final seven holes, three times putting short-iron approaches in places where he simply could not afford to put them. Norman wasn't so much mis-hitting as mis-playing—unnecessarily forcing the ball at the pin with efforts that were poorly conceived and inappropriate to the situation. When the wreckage had been cleared, witnesses were left with that empty feeling that comes when a great player lets a great victory slip away. It was certainly not a first-time feeling at Olympic, where the fates of the U.S. Open chose Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan in 1955, Billy Casper over Arnold Palmer in 1966 and Scott Simpson over Tom Watson in 1987.
And on Sunday, there was again the question that Norman won't let go away: Does this man, who has won 62 titles all over the world, including two major championships and 11 victories on the PGA Tour, who is so exciting, so appealing and so talented, truly know how to win?
Norman's gory history of unforgettable crunch-time failures all came flooding back the moment he got too cute with a nine-iron from 131 yards and left it in the right bunker guarding the pin on the otherwise simple 12th hole. Then, when he failed to save his par after a mediocre bunker shot, Norman went from being a tank rolling inexorably and triumphantly toward Olympic's stately clubhouse to a cable car careering down Hyde Street toward disaster.
On the par-3 13th, Norman's bogey after a poor chip from behind the green threw him into a tie with Gallagher. After a routine par on 14, he seemed to regain control with a 15-foot birdie putt on the short 15th, but on the 609-yard 16th, he tried a shot that is best described as dumb. Facing a third shot from the fairway, with 94 yards to a pin tucked behind another righthand bunker, Norman chose to hit a 60-degree wedge directly at the hole rather than play more safely to the left. His ball, nipped with tremendous backspin, never got up high enough and slammed into the sand and plugged. When he finally made a five-footer for bogey, Norman was again tied with Gallagher, who had finished with a 69 for a seven-under 277.
After a scrambling par on 17, Norman needed only another par on the delicate 347-yard par-4 18th to get into a playoff. He hit a long-iron tee shot that left him 133 yards to a pin cut on a severe slope at the very back of the green. It was a situation that fairly screamed for the approach to be left somewhere below the hole.
But Norman took out an eight-iron, a selection that surprised his playing partner, David Frost, who also was still in contention. "I had hit an eight-iron, and I had been 20 yards behind Greg," he said. "I think he used the wrong club."