Golf: Friendly rivals set for US PGA: Americans face whitewash

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHILE Nick Price was in the process of making a 50- foot putt at the 71st hole in the Open Championship at Turnberry, Greg Norman was heading for Prestwick airport. When he got there he left Price a note. Not in a pigeon hole, not on a car windscreen, nothing as mundane as that. Norman stuck the message to the side of Price's jet.

'It just said I was proud of him, congratulations, friendly stuff like that,' Norman said. 'And if you believe that you'll believe anything.'

Norman and Price, the world Nos 1 and 2, are neighbours in Florida and last year the Australian sold the Zimbabwean his plane.

Over dinner in Tulsa Norman reminded Price - they are the favourites for the 76th US PGA Championship which starts at Southern Hills Country Club here tomorrow - that his name appears above Price's on the silver claret jug. He left himself wide open. Price was able to retort that Norman's name had yet to appear on the US PGA trophy.

Price won the fourth major at St Louis in 1992. Norman looked like winning it in 1986 until Bob Tway holed from a bunker at the last hole and he came desperately close again 12 months ago at the Inverness club in Toledo. A putt for victory at the 18th lipped out of the hole and Norman then lost a play-off to Paul Azinger. 'I feel no uneasiness or remorse about not winning,' Norman said, 'because I think it was better for Paul to reflect back on that win, considering what he's been through the last year.'

Azinger, of course, is making a comeback after recovering from cancer of the shoulder. He played in his first tournament of the season last week, missing the cut in the Buick Classic.

'Deep down my goal was to be healthy enough to defend the US PGA,' Azinger said yesterday. 'I'm pretty pleased my shoulder doesn't hurt. I'm pretty pleased I don't feel like throwing up every morning. I have the opportunity to be an inspiration to a lot of people just by being out there. It's almost a new calling.'

The Americans are painfully aware that for the first time in the majors they face a whitewash. Jose-Maria Olazabal won the Masters, Ernie Els the US Open and Price the Open. 'The game has changed dramatically,' Norman said. 'Twenty years ago the Americans were the dominant force but the rest of the world has not only caught up with them but passed them. It's become a truly international sport and non Americans have had a little more tenacity.'