As Greg Norman stood in the heart of the 18th fairway, he held Jack Nicklaus' fate and the outcome of the Masters in his hands.

Yes, like a shark, his fin had appeared just when everyone thought it was safe to go back in the water. A billion Bear backers finally were sure, with Seve Ballesteros three-putting the 17th green and Tom Kite failing to birdie any of the last three holes, that Nicklaus' total of 9-under-par would be good enough to win the 50th, and perhaps the best, Masters.

Then came Norman. Birdies at Nos. 14 and 15. Yawn, so what? The crowd around the final green barely noticed. Birdie at the 16th. Gasp. What's going on here? Finally, a birdie at the 17th. Full-scale hubbub and panic.

After a perfect 3-wood tee shot at 18, Norman pulled out a 4-iron. Was he going for par and a playoff, or for a birdie to the back-center pin placement and victory. "Bit of both," he said. "No time to be negative. Try to win and win as soon as you can."

What happened next -- a slice 15 yards deep into the crowd on the right -- was almost as shocking as if Norman had holed out. "It was an uphill lie and I just fell back and spun out of the shot, basically," said Norman. "Maybe that was the first time all week that I let my ego get the best of me and tried to rifle it at the flag when I should have been less aggressive."

Norman punched a tough 8-iron chip shot off a thin, hard lie to 15 feet, but missed his putt badly to the left. "I pulled the putt, probably because I knew it was so fast downhill. I'd wanted to leave the chip above the hole, but I pushed it a little."

Did Norman, perchance, remember the 72nd hole of the 1984 U.S. Open? Birdie to win, par for a probable playoff with Fuzzy Zoeller. He'd fanned it dead right, several zip codes into the gallery. "That was a totally different shot," he said reflectively. "A 6-iron left-to-right. This was a high 4-iron." Then Norman paused and thought. "Maybe I put the same swing on both of them."

Norman handled himself admirably in defeat, as he had at Winged Foot. "Can't cry over spilled milk . . . At Winged Foot, I was struggling to get home [on Sunday]. Here, I was making birdies all the way in . . . I'm a lot disappointed, but there's next week, next year."

Ballesteros, who had plenty to say all week, including predictions of victory Wednesday, left the Augusta National grounds quickly and was not available for any dinner of crow. He, too, met one shot of critical importance and, like Norman, he hit a gawdawful clunker. "As I was standing on the 17th tee, I heard this funny sound," said Nicklaus.

Before long, Nicklaus learned that it was the sound of a Spaniard sinking. Soon, a shark would join him.