Golf: Norman enjoys English Turn on road to Augusta

There are two main reasons why golfers are here this week. A few are simply taking the opportunity to play the week before the US Masters. Others need to be here to give themselves a chance to play at Augusta.

Payne Stewart is one of the latter. Greg Norman, Steve Elkington and Jose-Maria Olazabal are here for the first reason. Norman needs the outing before he returns to Augusta as he has played only three full tournaments this year.

After reaching a play-off at the Dubai Desert Classic, when he lost to his fellow Australian Richard Green, Norman's performances have since gone downhill. In the last round of the Players Championship last Sunday, the Shark shot a 79, his highest score on the US Tour for nine years.

Norman started with three birdies in his first four holes, having started at the 10th tee. After a bogey at the 17th, he holed from 30 feet at the 18th for a birdie and picked up two more shots on the front nine. Norman, who rose at 5 a.m. for his 7.36 tee-time, was happy enough with his 67. "The more I play, the better I feel about things," he said.

Norman was two behind Larry Rinker, who had birdies on four of his last six holes, David Toms, and the defending champion, Scott McCarron.

Stewart, who shot 69, was one of Norman's playing partners and is hoping to emulate Davis Love's performance two years ago. Love was not exempt for the Masters and won here before finishing second at Augusta. Stewart's exemption for winning the 1991 US Open has run out and a victory here is his only hope of not missing the Masters next week.

The shortage of leading names here suggests English Turn is not considered ideal preparation for tackling the cathedral of pines in Augusta. Under grey skies, the exposed layout runs through a housing estate that is as featureless as Bourbon Street is colourful. Norman, however, thinks highly of it as a test of golf. He has finished second here on three occasions and fourth on his only other appearance, so the resemblance to Augusta is very real for him.

Olazabal returned a level-par 72, but following Seve Ballesteros's withdrawal on Wednesday with flu, the small European contingent was further reduced when Sam Torrance quit after 10 holes with tendinitis in his left wrist and probably will dwindle further today since Per-Ulrik Johansson faces a struggle to make the cut after an 82.

"I hit my drive at the second, and it hurt like hell," Torrance said. Having missed four of his five cuts so far this year, the Scot, who has been suffering from gout, damaged his wrist while practising extensively last weekend. He was six over par after taking a triple bogey at the 18th and a double at the first.

"I had to take three Advils to play for the last two days and last night in my room could hardly swing a club. I don't want to mess it up for next week so I'll go straight to Augusta, have a couple of days rest and see how it is. This year has been a never ending saga."

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