US Masters Action Replay: Augusta collision course

Thirteen years on, Golf Monthly relives the infamous 'choke' of Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters - the biggest final-round turnaround at Augusta in its history.

Greg Norman and Nick Faldo

Coming into the 1996 Masters, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman had endured contrasting recent fortunes. The Englishman’s much-publicised split from his wife Gill early in the year became a tabloid soap opera when news broke of his relationship with 20-year-old Arizona golf student, Brenna Cepelak. There was also the back and neck spasms that had plagued his form. He hadn’t threatened in a Major since tieing for fourth place at the 1994 USPGA and had missed the cut at the Players Championship just weeks before. Norman, meanwhile, had proven his long-standing credentials the previous season with three victories on the PGA Tour on his way to topping the US Money List. Come April ’96, the ‘Shark’ was sitting proudly at the top of the World Rankings.

After firing opening rounds of 63 and 69 – the first of which equalled the course record of his close friend Nick Price – Norman held a four-shot lead over Faldo going into Saturday. Faldo had suffered an uncomfortable Thursday and Friday walking the fairways of Augusta with John Daly, who had out-driven the Englishman by anything up to 100 yards. Despite this, a Friday 67 was enough to set up a third round duel with Norman, who in response posted a steady 71 to extend his lead to six shots through 54 holes. With Phil Mickelson a further shot adrift, there was little to suggest anything more than a gentle push would be on the cards.

Worryingly for the meticulous Faldo, he would turn up at Augusta half an hour late for his final round. Norman, by then, was firmly into his pre-match routine, and claimed to be “totally in control” when the two players stood on Augusta’s opening par 4, ‘Tea Olive’. But a snap hook resulted in a bogey, while Faldo was impassively efficient, making par, birdie, par, par over the opening four holes.

It wasn’t long before uncomfortable mutterings turned to genuine fear. Norman bogeyed the par-3 4th and Faldo the 5th. But the Englishman fought back with a birdie at the 6th before drilling in a 20-footer on the 8th. Heading to the 9th, Norman’s lead had gone from six to three, and became only two when he three-putted after leaving his 9-iron approach well short. According to Faldo’s coach David Leadbetter, the Australian was “fidgeting intensely and taking an age over routine approaches”. Then, from the 10th to the 12th, matters would deteriorate to the extent where a four-shot swing would see Faldo take control.

Alex Narey
Content Editor

Alex began his journalism career in regional newspapers in 2001 and moved to the Press Association four years later. He spent three years working at Dennis Publishing before first joining Golf Monthly, where he was on the staff from 2008 to 2015 as the brand's managing editor, overseeing the day-to-day running of our award-winning magazine while also contributing across various digital platforms. A specialist in news and feature content, he has interviewed many of the world's top golfers and returns to Golf Monthly after a three-year stint working on the Daily Telegraph's sports desk. His current role is diverse as he undertakes a number of duties, from managing creative solutions campaigns in both digital and print to writing long-form features for the magazine. Alex has enjoyed a life-long passion for golf and currently plays to a handicap of 13 at Tylney Park Golf Club in Hampshire.