1986 Masters: Norman just wants a mulligan

Jack Nicklaus, left, and Greg Norman carry their putters as they leave the green during practice round on June 11, 1986 at the U.S. Open in Southampton, New York. Norman was the runner-up to Nicklaus' in this year's Masters tournament.

Jack Nicklaus, left, and Greg Norman carry their putters as they leave the green during practice round on June 11, 1986 at the U.S. Open in Southampton, New York. Norman was the runner-up to Nicklaus' in this year's Masters tournament.

Even now, 20 years later, Greg Norman says his “biggest regret in golf” came on his last full shot at the 1986 Masters. Even now he longs for a mulligan.

Norman came to that last hole tied for the lead with Jack Nicklaus. After driving a 3-wood onto the 18th fairway, he faced 186 yards to a back-right pin. He decided to hit a soft 4-iron instead of a hard 5-iron and blocked the approach right of the green. He chipped to 16 feet, missed the par putt and finished a stroke back.

“My first thought was to hit a hard-5, but I talked myself out of it,” he said. “Wrong choice. I should have stayed in attack mode rather than trying to finesse a longer club. That’s what had been working for me all day. Unfortunately, I was so pumped that I hit it too hard and pushed it into the gallery. If I could have one career mulligan, I’d take it there.”

Back then, Norman’s misses under pressure tended to go right. The year before he blocked a key 6-iron approach at the U.S. Open.

In the ’86 Masters, Norman began the final round in the lead at 6-under-par 210. He dropped back after snap-hooking a drive and double-bogeying No. 10, but he got back in the mix with birdies on Nos. 14 through 17. The last came from 12 feet after he hit a marvelous pitch-and-run shot over a hill. All those loud roars for Nicklaus motivated him, he said.

“I continued to hear the roars throughout the back nine and I knew I had to turn it up a notch,” said Norman, who estimated he and Nick Price played before only about 50 people in the last pairing. As fans flocked toward Nicklaus, Norman told Price, “Let’s do something to wake these people.”

He did so with that four-birdie run but would end up with his first of three runner-up finishes at Augusta. Close often, but no jacket.

Still, despite what he called a “number of heartbreaking defeats” and referring to Augusta National as his “cruel temptress,” Norman maintains the Masters is his favorite tournament.

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