Golf: New Norman takes control: Australian storms into desert

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The Independent Online
GREG NORMAN dropped the kids off at school in Florida, hopped into his private jet, a Gulfstream 3, made brief stops for refuelling at Gander and Athens and 14 hours later arrived in Dubai yesterday morning in time for a spot of golf. A car whisked him from the airport to his hotel and then a helicopter flew him to the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, where he hit a few practice balls before taming the course.

Norman, paying his first visit to the Gulf, is here for the Dubai Desert Classic, which begins over the Emirates Course tomorrow, and yesterday he played in the nine-hole, five-man Reebok Challenge. He shot 31, five under par; Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie were one over and Isao Aoki five over. 'Pretty damned good,' Norman said, stifling a yawn. He was presented with a model dhow, cast in gold. 'This is a culture I've never experienced before,' Norman said. 'I'm very pleasantly surprised. It doesn't feel part of the European Tour.'

The irony is that Nick Faldo, the world No 1, is not competing in Dubai and should Norman, ranked two, win in the desert this week, he could trade places with the Englishman. Not that it bothers the Australian. 'I have never been a believer in the world rankings even when I was No 1,' Norman said. 'The only way to find out who is the best in the world is to have an official world tour. If Faldo wins in Europe it is hard to judge his achievement when you're thousands of miles away. The only way is to compete against each other. I stimulate Faldo, he stimulates me. Look at the Open last year. Imagine if that happened in 20 tournaments a year. There would be some serious golf.' Last July Norman won the Open at Royal St George's, holding off the challenge of Faldo and Langer.

The world ranking system was devised by the International Management Group with whom Norman has parted company. Talking of the split for the first time, he said: 'I needed more control of my affairs. A lot of my businesses need a hands-on approach. I couldn't have a company in Cleveland looking after my stuff in Florida.'

Norman has eight businesses, including a yacht-building company, an aviation company and, in partnership with Reebok (hence his appearance yesterday), the Greg Norman Collection of golf clothes. He owns the shark logo that appears on shoes, shirts and hats. His new manager is Frank Williams who, until this year, was IMG's man in Australia.

'I used to spend hours in the office and now I don't go there at all,' Norman said. 'If I'm not playing in a tournament I practise and work out. Before I was hitting my head against the wall. I'm getting my priorities right. My business is right and now I'm getting my body right.'

He has a personal fitness adviser and spends two and a half hours each day working on a cardiovascular programme. Norman brought some of his equipment with him and among the items loaded on to his plane in Florida was a medicine ball. 'I haven't brought my medicine ball with me this week,' Big Monty interjected.