Still, there were some who went out of their way to note that where there is a Saturday-night Norman lead (seven times in majors), there are a whole lot of Sunday banana peels (only one win). "If he blows this," ESPN's Dan Patrick said on Sunday, "it will be the biggest collapse in modern golf history."
Faldo admitted that he did not expect to win. In fact, he was so nonchalant about what he assumed would be Norman's coronation walk that he got caught up watching auto racing on TV and showed up at the course a half hour behind schedule, unthinkable for someone as meticulous as he is.
But from the beginning on Sunday something in Norman's swing made you squirm. He hooked his drive at 1 into the trees and made a bogey. There was a nasty par save on 3, a bogey on 4 and a god-awful pull on 8.
Faldo, meanwhile, was as steady as rent, making two-putt par after two-putt par. (He three-putted once all week.) He drilled a four-footer on the 6th for a birdie and a 20-footer on 8 to cut the lead to three. Then came the most catastrophic four golf holes in Norman's life.
His wedge came up six feet short of the pin on the rockface that is the 9th green and slid 30 yards back toward him, an ignominy from which he couldn't save par. Two-shot lead. Still, Norman had riddled the back nine all week: He had played those holes in 11 under going into Sunday. If ever a back nine could be a safety net, this was it.
It wasn't. On the 10th Norman put a butcherly stroke on a simple uphill chip, sending the ball eight feet past and missing the putt for a bogey. "That's when I knew," said Faldo, "things were going to be tight." One-shot lead.
Up on the hill Nick Price, Norman's best friend on the Tour, left the clubhouse looking pale. "I can't stand to watch," he said and headed to his car.
It got worse. At 11 Norman hit two perfect shots and a sweet 10-foot putt that lipped out. Then the three-foot tiddler coming back also stayed stubbornly out. No-shot lead.
Now there was an uneasiness among the dogwoods, a sickening feeling, as Norman came to the one hole you do not want to come to after blowing a six-shot lead. It is the 12th, the Drew Barrymore of par-3s: small, gorgeous and sheer trouble. Norman had left that one ball on the bank on Friday and another in the water on Saturday, and the way he was swinging, the green must have looked like a TV tray.
"His routine is so different," said Faldo's coach, David Leadbetter. "He's standing over the ball an incredible amount of time. I'd say he's spending six, seven seconds longer per shot, fidgeting, moving around in ways I've never seen him do."
Behind Greg, Morgan-Leigh was praying and trying to calm Laura. "It's gonna be all right, Mom," she said. It might be, in time, but the shot definitely wasn't. Norman pushed it right of Faldo's ban, which sat happily on the green, and then watched as it slud back into the pond. Sorry, only one Couples Cling per Masters. Double bogey, Norman's fifth straight 5. For the first time all week he did not lead. Unfathomably, Faldo led by two shots. In five holes Norman had handed Faldo six shots.
The players traded birdies at the par-5 13th, Norman letting himself get talked out of going for it in two by his caddie, Tony Navarro, who argued that to hit a shot 213 yards off pine needles was asking too much of a man who had hit five greens all day. Norman and Faldo traded pars at 14 and birdies at 15, Norman missing an eagle by an inch with his chip on 15. As the ball crawled by the hole, Norman fell to his knees and then arched back on his haunches so that he looked like the vanquished Y.A. Tittle in that famous photograph. Then he toppled over, shot by an imaginary bullet. "Really thought that was in," he said.