The two players who make up golf's best rivalry of the decade were thousands of miles apart, on different continents and under very different circumstances.

Greg Norman was at home in south Florida, hitting balls for the first time since surgery on his left shoulder nearly five months ago. Nick Faldo was in Switzerland, missing the cut at a European tour event for the first time in four years.

Both are approaching the twilight of their peak years. Both believe they have another major championship in them. How appropriate if both could make their last stand at the same time.

Another chance for Faldo to join Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer with his seven professional majors. Another chance for Norman to validate himself as one of golf's greats by winning a third major to go along with 16 other top-5 finishes in the majors and 72 victories around the world.

Only at this rate, one has to wonder if either of them will be heard from again.

Norman has been a no-show since April because of his shoulder injury, which stemmed from two dozen years of pounding balls. Faldo has been a no-show all year because of his putting, which has put pressure on the rest of his game.

``It just gives me a knocking every time I get out there,'' said the 41-year-old Faldo, who hasn't won since the 1997 Nissan Open at Riviera and is facing his first winless season since 1986. ``I just keep getting a kicking every day.''

Faldo is at an all-time low since building a swing to stand the test of major championship golf. He slipped to No. 69 this week in the world rankings, and is in jeopardy of missing the first World Championship of Golf event in February, a match-play tournament with a $5 million purse involving the top 64 players in the world.

Norman, 43, is also at a career low on the world rankings _ down one notch this week to No. 13, the result of playing just 19 1/2 competitive rounds. He says his rehabilitation went well and that he's stronger than ever, but there's no telling how he will bounce back from the experimental surgery.

And while Norman has bounced back from one crushing blow after another, he concedes that golf won't dominate his life the way it used to. He saw a couple of PGA Tour events on TV during his summer off and yawned. They did little more than remind of the travel, the pro-ams, the grind.

``I don't want to go back to that same old mundane routine,'' he said.

He'll make his return in November at the 10th anniversary of his own Shark Shootout, then gear up for the Presidents Cup in his native Australia and ease into the 1999 season.

``I'm not going to hit balls every day until the third week of the November,'' he said. ``Basically, I'll be practicing three weeks, take a week off. It's not going to be the same old grinding because that's when you get into bad habits. I'm going to change it up and get ready to play.''

Faldo tried to change it up by going back to Europe. The Canon European Masters was the first tournament to earn Ryder Cup points, and Faldo wants to try to make the team without Mark James having to consider him as a captain's choice.

He also wants to see his name on the leaderboard to gain some measure of confidence. But as evidenced by him missing the cut, the only place Faldo can expect to show up and scare people away is on the Hooters Tour.

``When I was doing my winning in Europe, there were five or six names, maybe 10, who you were looking at,'' Faldo said before missing the cut. ``Now, I'm sure it's closer to 20 guys, and you've got to work hard and keep looking for ways to improve.''

Faldo has won three times as many majors as Norman, along with two honors that Norman doesn't have _ a permanent locker in the Augusta National clubhouse and a crystal image in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Norman will have to win the Masters to get the former, and he may need to win at least one other major to get the latter.

``I think there are still majors in me,'' Norman said earlier this year. ``There is still a lot on my plate I would like to achieve.''

The road back starts with every day on the range that he can take a full swing with a longer club. He began with a 9-iron Friday and hopes to be hitting driver in a couple of weeks. Unless the shoulder doesn't recover like Norman believes it will, he will find a way to get back to the top of his game.

And maybe he'll find Faldo waiting for him.