While The Masters has long been the stage for some of the greatest triumphs in the history of golf, Augusta National has also served as the setting for some of the sport’s most heartbreaking defeats. Naturally, when talking about heartbreak and The Masters, it’s easy to go back to 1996 and the epic collapse of Greg Norman, who entered the final round with a six-shot lead but lost by five to Nick Faldo. But while many consider this to be the most heartbreaking loss in Masters history, the “Great White Shark” himself doesn’t even consider that to be his most devastating defeat at Augusta.
Greg Norman lost a six-shot lead in the final round at The Masters in 1996
Before we get to what Greg Norman considers his most devastating defeat at The Masters, we’re first going to take a quick look back at the other heartbreaking moments he experienced at Augusta (yes, there’s more than two), beginning with that monumental meltdown in 1996.
After opening the ’96 Masters with a 9-under round of 63, which tied the lowest round in tournament history, Norman followed with rounds of 69 and 71 and entered Sunday’s final round at 13-under, six shots ahead of Nick Faldo. Despite not playing his best golf early in the round, Norman still held a four-shot lead after seven holes but everything unraveled from there.
As the pair made the turn, Norman’s lead had dwindled to two and was gone after the 11th following a third consecutive bogey from the then-top-ranked player in the world. Norman then doubled 12, putting him behind by two and he never got any closer.
Another costly double at the par-3 16th ruined any chance he had to win his first green jacket and he limped home with a six-over 78 while Faldo fired a five-under 67 to claim his third victory at The Masters.
The ‘Great White Shark’ was the victim of Jack Nicklaus’ miraculous comeback at Augusta in 1986
10 years before that famous collapse in 1996, Greg Norman suffered his first heartbreaking defeat at The Masters at the hands of the great Jack Nicklaus, who won his 18th and final major in dramatic fashion.
Over the first three days of what was a tough scoring week, Norman shot 70-72-68 and took a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round, which was absolutely incredible as five different players held at least a share of the lead. Norman was tied for the lead at the turn but then double-bogeyed the par-4 10th. leaving him two back of leader Seve Ballesteros, who ultimately finished fourth.
Nicklaus fired a 6-under 30 on the back nine to take the clubhouse lead at 9-under and waited as Norman and Tom Kite scrambled to catch him. The double-bogey at 10 had dropped the “Great White Shark” to 5-under but he rallied, making four consecutive birdies from 14 to 17 to get to 9-under heading into the final hole.
Obviously only needing a par to tie, Norman found the fairway off the tee at the 18th but hit a disastrous second shot into the gallery to the right of the green. He left himself a chance with a decent chip on his third but missed his par putt, giving Nicklaus his sixth victory at The Masters.
Greg Norman says his 1987 defeat at The Masters was his most devasting loss at Augusta
One year after losing The Masters by a single stroke, Greg Norman was back in contention at Augusta in 1987. And it was this defeat that he calls the most devastating.
While Greg Norman didn’t enter this particular final round with the lead, he was just one shot back of leaders Ben Crenshaw and Roger Maltbie, who both shot 74 that Sunday and ultimately finished tied for fourth, and got himself into a playoff with Seve Ballesteros and Larry Mize.
Ballesteros was eliminated after making bogey on the first playoff hole, the par-4 10th, leaving Norman and Mize to continue their battle at the par-4 11th. Both found the fairway off the tee but Mize hit his second well right, leaving an extremely difficult third, which led Norman to hit a conservative second that ended up on the right fringe about 50 feet from the hole.
And then it happened.
With one of the most incredible and dramatic shots in the history of The Masters, Mize holed out that difficult third for an improbable birdie. Norman had a chance to tie but missed his birdie effort, giving Mize his first and only major championship victory. Years later, Norman would say that this loss was worse than the collapse in 1996 or the loss to Nicklaus in 1986 (h/t Golf Digest).
“That’s the one that gutted me most because I thought I was in total control. And that’s something I talked to my kids about. I explained to them if you think you’re in total control, expect the unexpected. When everything looks great, look for trouble.”Greg Norman
Greg Norman says it took him four years to get over that loss at The Masters in 1987. In total, he had nine finishes of sixth or better at Augusta National over the course of his career, finishing in the top three on six of those occasions, but never slipped on that green jacket.