No Masters heartbreak for Norman. He's gone

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) " Greg Norman played better and fared worse.

The Shark said he thought he played better at the Masters than he did at last year's British Open, where an age-defying performance earned him a tie for third and his first trip to Augusta National in seven years. But he's going home early, missing the cut by two shots.

The cut was 1-over 145, the lowest since 2001.

"I played really well," Norman said after a 5-over 77 Friday left him at 3 over for the tournament. "We got warned for slow play on the 13th hole and it kind of threw me out of rhythm a little bit, and then we had to wait two holes later. It's one of those things with the game of golf, and I didn't really recover from that."

Before Tiger Woods came along, Norman was the Masters rock star. With a big smile, flowing blond mane and long list of heartbreaking finishes, he was must-see-TV in April. He was second three times, third on three other occasions, and had nine top-10 finishes in all.

But it wasn't just the staggering number of close calls, it was how Norman lost. Jack Nicklaus shot a 30 on the back nine in 1986 to take the green jacket from him. The next year, Larry Mize chipped in from 140 feet during a playoff. And no one will ever forget 1996. Norman had a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo, only to gag it all away with a final-round 78.

Yet Norman relished the chance to come back to Augusta National, and the fans were just as happy to have him back.

"Still the best tournament around," Norman said. "Unfortunately, I won't be around on the weekend."

He will, however, be at the British Open. As a two-time champion, Norman is exempt until he's 65.

"Turnberry is one of my favorite golf courses, so we'll see how the R&A has done it," said Norman, who won his first claret jug there in 1986. "I'm looking forward to it."

Norman isn't the only big name who will have more free time this weekend.

After tying Gary Player's record of 23 consecutive cuts made at Augusta, Fred Couples has now missed two straight. The 1992 champion shot matching 73s, missing the cut by one shot.

Also among those missing the cut: former champions Jose Maria Olazabal, Zach Johnson, Mark O'Meara, Billy Mayfair, Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson. Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, both U.S. Open winners, also failed to make it.

None of the amateurs did, either.


NICE MOVE: Sergio Garcia thought he'd struggle to make the cut at this year's Masters.

So much for that.

Garcia moved onto the leaderboard with a 5-under 67 on Friday. At 4-under 140, he is five strokes behind Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry.

"It's been a long time coming," Garcia said. "It's one of those things that you feel like you're doing well and nothing happens, and this week I came with no expectations. I thought I was going to have a hard time making the cut, and all of a sudden I shoot a good round like today and it puts you in good position."

At 0-for-38 in the majors, the Spaniard has inherited that dreaded title of "best player never to win a major." He's come close " plenty of times. He's had nine top-five finishes, including being runner-up at the 2007 British Open and last year's PGA Championship.

But he hasn't had much luck recently at the Masters. This is the only major where he has never gone into the final round within five shots of the lead, and he missed the cut three of the last five years.

Garcia looked as if he was in for another rough time when he shot a 1-over 73 in the first round. But he rebounded quite nicely Friday, making just one bogey on a day the wind was gusting and the greens were lightning quick.

Asked to explain the turnaround, he said: "Having no expectations, just going out there and playing and not care too much about where you hit it. I only worried about two or three holes. Other than that, I was just trying to be aggressive and see if things could happen my way."

It may be too early to start measuring him for a green jacket, however.

"The weekend is going to be long, it's going to be tough," Garcia said.


NO IRISH LUCK: Rory McIlroy wasn't the only player from the Emerald Isle who ran into a rules problem.

As tournament officials were reviewing whether McIlroy tested the conditions of a bunker on the 18th hole, Padraig Harrington was trying to move up the leaderboard when he stood over a 4-foot birdie on the 15th.

He took two practice strokes, stepped over the ball and grounded his putter, then backed away to review the line. As he moved back over the ball, a gust blew it about 3 feet away.

Harrington immediately called for a ruling, and ultimately was penalized one stroke and had to replace the ball. The Irishman asked for another opinion, because this wasn't the first time it has happened to him.

"Happened to me in Houston a while ago, and at the time, the referee ruled that as I wasn't standing over it " even though I had addressed it " it wasn't a penalty," he said. "I knew I had addressed it, and up to that point, I always knew it to be a penalty."

More important to him was that he eventually made the 4-foot putt, even though it was for par.

Harrington wound up with a 73 and was seven shots back in his quest for a third straight major. He was more bothered by four putts that spun around the lip of the cup.

"I had a couple of horseshoes today," he said. "The next few days, it's important it doesn't happen again."


PERRY'S TRAINING: Kenny Perry got his competitive edge from his father, who would beat him in golf or card games. So imagine how good the son felt when he finally beat the master.

Perry said he was 14 years old when he finally defeated his father in golf, and it wasn't easy.

"The ninth hole at our course was a par 3, and he's 1 up on me," Perry said. "He says, 'I've got you again.' I hit a 4-iron in the hole for a 1. He made par, and I finally beat him. And then it finally turned. I started beating him and it was regular."


AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.


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