Golf: Norman circles familiar waters

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The Independent Online
Greg Norman was heading for another weekend rendezvous with Nick Faldo as the 78th US PGA Championship at Valhalla went into overtime yesterday. Norman, the world No 1, had a hectic schedule but still managed to appear on the leaderboard at the half-way stage.

It has been a frustrating season in the majors for the Great White Shark: runner-up, of course, to Faldo in the Masters at Augusta National; joint- 10th in the US Open and joint-seventh in the Open at Royal Lytham. Neither he nor Faldo have won the US PGA, and in his litany of near-misses the Australian was second in 1986 and runner-up again in 1993.

Some defeats are harder to take than others, and the question haunting Norman is whether or not he can recover his nerve after the trauma of his collapse at Augusta in April. Leading by six strokes going into the final round, he shot 78 to Faldo's 67 and has since maintained that he did not, in fact, choke on a scale that would have made the Boston Strangler look like an amateur.

Yesterday Norman moved into contention again but, just when he threatened to move alongside the leaders, he got hit for six on the back nine. In the first round on Thursday afternoon he had been left high and not so dry by a thunderstorm that halted play for nearly four hours, and was one of 60 players out of 150 that were unable to complete their rounds.

Norman was at one under par after 14 holes and he had to return to the course at 7.20am yesterday and play four holes before returning to the first tee to play the second round. Norman took advantage of conditions that were almost perfect, a breeze replacing the suffocating humidity that had the caddies up in arms about not being able to wear shorts. Norman picked up three birdies in four holes to finish the first round with a 68, four under par and a stroke in front of Faldo, who was safely in the clubhouse with a 69 before the storm broke.

Ian Woosnam, who also had to rise early to continue his first round at the 15th, had a six at the 18th after being in a position to share the lead with Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry and the Fijian Vijay Singh. Woosnam, resuming at five under par, dropped to four under, and in the second round he struggled over the front nine before launching a recovery.

Woosnam had three successive bogeys from the sixth. He missed from six feet to save par at the sixth; drove into the left rough at the seventh before missing the green from 120 yards with his third shot, and at the short eighth he dropped another stroke, missing a five footer. As Norman faltered turning for home, the Welshman retrieved his round with birdies at the 13th and 14th. Norman got to seven under for the championship but dropped a shot at the 12th and a double-bogey six at the 15th put him at four under, along with Woosnam.

Perry, a Kentuckian, moved to eight under with a birdie at the 10th. However, he came home in 37 for a 72 that left him on six under. Perry was warned about slow play at the 13th and was told at the 17th that if he did not improve his pace of play he would be penalised a stroke. At the 18th, facing a three-foot putt for a birdie, he hurried the stroke and missed.

Last night the field was reduced to the leading 70 players and ties, and Colin Montgomerie, the world No 2, was in danger of missing the cut. He had a torrid time on the back nine in the second round and a bogey at the 12th, a double bogey on 15 and another bogey on 16 put him at four over for the championship. At that point he was 12 strokes adrift of Mickelson.

Montgomerie has a poor record in the majors this year. He was joint-39th in the Masters, joint-10th in the US Open and he missed the cut in the Open Championship last month. Another bogey on 17 left him at five over, and for Montgomerie Valhalla looked more like Hades.

The highlight of Singh's second-successive 69 was a hole in one with a 5-iron at the 208-yard 14th. Meanwhile Mickelson, who had a 67 in the first round, had birdies at the 13th and 14th to get to eight under. Norman had to settle for a level-par 72, and another who got to four under was Justin Leonard. The 24-year-old Texan, one under after the first round, made a spectacular start to the second with a birdie at the first and an eagle three at the second hole.

US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Valhalla GC, Louisville, Kentucky): First-round scores (US unless stated): 66 K Perry, P Mickelson. 67 S Elkington (Aus). 68 M Brooks, N Price (Zimb), R Cochran, J Edwards, G Norman (Aus), I Woosnam (GB), L Janzen. 69 D Edwards, J Cook, N Faldo (GB), S McCarron, T Tolles, V Singh (Fiji), J Roth, F Noblio (NZ), T Watson, E Aubrey. 70 P Azinger, W Wood, P Walton (Ire), J Furyk, B Watts, M Calcavecchia, P Stankowski, W Austin. 71 P Burke, D Frost (SA), A Cejka (Ger), T Herron, T Lehman, R Mediate, M O'Meara, S Torrance (GB), P Jacobsen, M Brisky, B Boyd, L Mize, C Tucker, C Montgomerie (GB), J McGovern, D A Weibring, C Pavin, P Goydos, N Lancaster, M A Jimenez (Sp), B Mayfair, J Leonard, P Blackmar. 72 G Morgan, N Henke, J Haas, J Sluman, B Faxon, J Daly, C Parry (Aus), S Hoch, S Lowery, G Bowman, K Triplett, J Huston, S Higashi (Japan), C Rocca (It), L Roberts 72 B Estes, T Purtzer, G Day, J Adams. 73 S Ingraham, L Rinker, C Strange, D Waldorf, J Sindelar, B Langer (Ger), S Stricker, L Nelson, J Parnevik (Swe), H Sutton, D Martin, M Bradley, H Clark (GB),D Love, P Stewart, P-U Johansson (Swe), T Nakajima (Japan), S Simpson, M James(GB), J Maggert, F Funk, J Gallagher Jnr, M Wiebe. 74 P Arthur, W Grady (Aus), M Reid, B Crenshaw, J Reeves, D Duval, B Bryant, FCouples, E Els (SA), B McCallister, J Morse, J D Blake, J Wilson, B Chamblee, E Terasa.

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