Since 1981, when he made his initial splash on the world golf stage by finishing fourth at Augusta National, Greg Norman has been as much a part of the Masters as azaleas and green jackets.
However, Norman’s 22-year run at Augusta is likely to end this April. Club chairman Hootie Johnson sent Norman a letter informing the three-time Masters runner-up he will not be extended a special invitation to play. (The club gave Norman such an invitation in 2002.)
“Hootie wrote explaining the decision, and I think it is the right decision,” Norman said at last week’s Heineken Classic in Australia. “I support him 100 percent and respect him for that.”
Norman has three alternative routes to get into the Masters: climb into the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking (currently he ranks 127th); win The Players Championship (an event he won in 1994); or rank among the top 10 season earners on the PGA Tour through TPC (March 30).
Norman, who will turn 48 Feb. 10, was runner-up at Augusta National in 1986, 1987 and 1996, shares the competitive course record of 63 and has finished in the top 10 at nine Masters.
He was the 54-hole leader in 1986, but lost by a shot (as did Tom Kite) to a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who secured his sixth Masters championship; he lost in a playoff in 1987 when Larry Mize holed a chip of 140 feet for birdie at the par-4 11th; and he squandered a five-shot lead in the final round in 1996, struggling to 78 as Nick Faldo passed him with a 67.
Four years ago, Norman was tied for the lead on the back nine but bowed to eventual champion Jose Maria Olazabal and finished third.
Johnson has invited Norman to be a guest of the club during tournament week, but Norman said he declined the invitation.
“I miss the place, no question,” he said. “I’ll miss being there because I’ve played there for so long. I have a lot of good memories of it.”
Norman also told reporters he doubts he can add another major championship to his resume, which includes British Open victories in 1986 and 1993.
“(But) will I win another golf tournament?” he asked. “Yes. I’m a realist. I’ve always been a realist.”
– Staff and wire reports