AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Greg Norman could have sent his regrets to Augusta National Golf Club. No one would have blamed him.
Or, if the Shark didn't want to seem ungracious, there were more creative ways to avoid the course that has haunted him throughout his career.
Uhh, I'm building a new golf course that week ... My private jet is in the shop ... The dog ate my special invitation.
"I never expected to be here," Norman said Tuesday. "So I feel very fortunate. I'm enjoying every step. I kind of feel like I'm going back 20 years ago."
Norman wouldn't have been playing the Masters this year under any of the regular criteria. A week before Christmas, however, the Aussie received an unexpected gift: a special invitation reserved for foreign-born players.
So, at 47, Norman has another chance to win a tournament that seemingly takes warped pleasure out of antagonizing him.
Three times, he's been the runner-up. Only a victory would soften the memory of his 1996 collapse, when he squandered a six-stroke lead to Nick Faldo with a final-round 78.
Then again, Norman never considered turning down the invitation.
"This event is the most unique in the world," he said. "It's the nectar of the game of golf, quite honestly. Everything is organized and respected around here."
Norman altered his schedule to get ready. No longer a regular member of the PGA Tour, he had planned to play most of his 12 allotted tournaments during the summer. Once Augusta called, he signed up for four tournaments leading up to the Masters.
Norman's best showing was a tie for 23rd in Houston, and he also tied for 33rd at Doral. He withdrew at Bay Hill after one round because of a twinge in his back, and failed to make the cut at The Players Championship.
Then there are the little things. Not expecting to play the first major of the year, Norman didn't even bother to rent the house where he usually stays in Augusta.
When the Masters begins Thursday, Tiger Woods will be favored to join Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only repeat winners.
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