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Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open collapse calls to mind Greg Norman

Greg Norman 1996 Masters

When his final par putt of the U.S. Open made a cruel right turn on Sunday evening, a stroke propelled by a decade of fear and fate, Rory McIlroy doomed himself to a destiny that should burn far more than merely losing another major championship.

In the annals of golf history, there are two names that can now be linked together as the most talented players of their generation who underachieved in the sport’s most important events.

One is McIlroy. The other is Greg Norman.

If you don’t understand why that matters, rewind back two years when McIlroy won the Canadian Open while LIV Golf was making its initial push to secure the game’s best players with a bottomless pit of Saudi money.

Greg Norman 1996 Masters

Greg Norman of Australia collapses to the ground after narrowly missing a chip shot on the 15th green during the final round of the 1996 Masters, where he lost a huge lead and Nick Faldo claimed the title. (Stephen Munday/ALLSPORT)

McIlroy was the poster boy for PGA Tour loyalty. Norman was the face of LIV. The tension between them was not just about business but had clearly become personal.

“This is a day I’ll remember for a long, long time – 21st PGA Tour win, one more than someone else,” McIlroy said on CBS that afternoon. “That gave a little more extra incentive today and I’m happy to get it done.”

The “someone else,” of course, was Norman: Winner of 20 PGA Tour titles and two British Opens but whose legacy is inexorably linked to losing majors in brutal fashion, most notably the 1996 Masters when he blew a six-shot lead beginning the final round.

The nasty, behind-the-scenes business of golf brought them into conflict. The even nastier on-course bungles under the heat of major championship pressure have brought them into the same breath of history.

After Sunday’s collapse over the final four holes at Pinehurst No. 2 – including an inexcusably poor club choice on No. 15 and two missed putts inside of four feet to hand the trophy to Bryson DeChambeau – the notion that McIlroy may never win another major championship is now legitimate.

He’s just 35, has shown no signs of slippage in the nuts-and-bolts of his game, and contends at almost every major. By the numbers, he still has 40 chances or so to add to a tally that seemed limitless when he won his fourth at age 25.

But the scar…


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