Golf Norman sharpens his teeth for Irish challenge

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The Independent Online
Golf

GUY HODGSON

reports from Mount Juliet

The advertising hoarding on the road from Waterford to Kilkenny had pinpointed the selling point. "Catch the Great White Shark" it read beneath a black hat with teeth in its band. There was no need to amplify further with a name.

You make your own mind up about Greg Norman. He is either the world's most charismatic golfer or an all-time great when it comes to succumbing to pressure. And, fortunately for his merchandising potential, most promoters, including those of this week's Murphy's Irish Open, are firmly entrenched in the former camp.

The public, too, for that matter. "He is an enormous attraction," Ireland's David Feherty said. "I'm just delighted the Irish people will get the chance to see him play. He'll bring hundreds to the gate." Norman is the name at this tournament, so big that a picture of his hat is enough.

Almost as ever, the Australian arrives in Europe with a disappointment in a major championship fresh in his mind but, when you have blown as many big prizes as he has, another one hardly matters. The US Open of three weeks ago has already been jettisoned into the mental dustbin.

"As soon as I walked out of Shinnecock Hills," he said, "I locked it out of my mind. I used to harbour the bad memories but when you get older you learn only to dwell on the good things. I am resilient."

Norman was runner-up at Shinnecock after letting Corey Pavin slip past him but, true to form in an event that did not really matter, he won the Greater Hartford Open the following week. That made his last four finishes first, fourth, second and first and, not surprisingly, he is the favourite to win the pounds 108,330 first prize here this week.

"The course is Americanised," he continued. "I like it. At first you think it's going to be easy but it's what I call a sleeper. You know it will get more difficult. There are some great holes."

Feherty knows a bit about great holes, particularly the one he finds himself in at the moment. The Irishman, a Ryder Cup player four years ago, has been plying his trade on the US tour this year to no notable effect, the reason as much as anything because he is going through a divorce.

Asked if he knew what to do with himself yesterday, he replied: "I do but I can't find a length of rope." Later, when amplifying on his lack of concentration, he stopped suddenly and said: "I'm sorry I've forgotten what your question was, which pretty well sums up my mind. It's funny the thoughts that go through your head at the top of your back swing."

Like Norman, Feherty is in Europe partly to prepare for the Open at St Andrews. "There's a lot going on in my brain but sometimes the sun shines through a gap in the clouds and I can play a bit."

As for this week, the silver lining seemed a distant prospect. "It's difficult for an Irishman here," he said, "as much as anything because of the off-course pressure. You have people asking for 37 tickets for the Sunday and a car park pass for your uncle."

How many members of his family would be here? "All the living ones for certain," he replied. "I don't think they've exhumed anyone. Not yet, anyway."

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