Golf: Open Championship: Norman's grace and power exorcises ghosts: Australian overcomes the elements and seven-year hitch to rediscover his touch among Sandwich's sand-dunes

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The Independent Online
GREG NORMAN won the 122nd Open Championship after a seven- year hitch that threatened to destroy his career. Norman was regarded as the greatest golfer to have won only one major championship. Until yesterday. The 38-year-old Australian, whose ratio of disasters to triumph is in the region of 7:1, landed his first big catch in the Open at Turnberry in 1986 and then suffered a series of debilitating setbacks. He exorcised those ghosts here with a supreme display of power and grace under the severest pressure.

Norman, who so enthusiastically took possession of the silver claret jug seven years ago, not only rediscovered the greatest prize in golf but also his nerve and his pride. Norman was once the world No 1 and to win here he had to outplay the current two best golfers in the world, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. 'To be able to say I beat those two guys means something to me,' Norman said with about 100 per cent understatement.

The strength of Royal St George's had been diluted by rain and Norman pillaged the course. He created history and it was an infinitely more popular conquest of the south coast than the one in 1066. Norman shot 64, the best score in a final round of an Open and his aggregate of 267 was another first. It beat by a stroke the record set by Tom Watson at Turnberry in 1977. Norman was deprived of another milestone by the matter of half an hour or so. Nobody had ever scored four rounds below 70 in an Open. Norman did it but so had the South African, Ernie Els, who had an earlier tee-time. Els was joint fifth at Muirfield last year and was joint sixth yesterday.

Norman won by two strokes from Faldo, who put up a heroic defence of the championship on his 36th birthday, and by three from Langer. 'Happy birthday Nick and commiserations,' Norman said. Gene Sarazen, who won the Open at St George's neighbouring course, Prince's in 1932, presented Norman with the claret jug at the 18th hole. It had Sarazen's name on it and it had Norman's name on it for a second time. The engraver had worked with confidence. 'Are they football scores or golf scores?' the 91- year-old Sarazen asked. Norman thought the American was 93 and it was only the second mistake, discounting his attire, that he had made all day.

The leaders went out in sweaters but they were discarded after a few holes as a warm breeze drifted over the links. As Norman was wearing a hideous concoction this seemed like a good idea but unfortunately his shirt was equally garish. It had a large shark motif on the back and a smaller one on his chest. It did not, however, distract from his golf which, up to the 17th green, had been faultless. He began the day at seven under par, one shot behind Faldo and the American Corey Pavin, and finished it at 13 under. 'I'm not one to boast but I'm just in awe of myself,' Norman said. He had seven birdies and the only blot on the landscape came at the 17th where he missed a putt that could be measured in inches rather than feet.

Although that hurt - the last time I had seen a facial expression like that was when Larry Mize chipped in at the second extra hole in a play-off to deprive Norman of the Masters in 1987 - it was an affordable lapse. Norman's lead over Faldo was reduced from three to two but he had only to negotiate the 18th to keep Faldo at bay. 'Greg had a great day,' Faldo said, 'and he was always a little bit out of my range. Every time I tried to do something he responded. I'm not too disappointed. It's been a hell of a week.' Faldo, Norman said, was gracious in defeat. 'It's good to have you back,' the Englishman, who has won three Opens since 1987, told him.

Both players were cheered to the skies by a crowd of around 27,000 whose loyalties were torn between flying the flag of St George and support for a man who, but for defying the law of averages, could have won half a dozen major titles.

Norman made his move at the first hole where he sank a putt of 25 feet which produced a glint of the great white teeth. Under normal circumstances a round of 67, which Faldo shot, would have been more than good enough to defend a one-stroke lead but there was nothing normal about Norman. 'I've never had such a round,' he said. 'Every drive was perfect, every iron was perfect. It was like I was playing chess.' In fact, the last time he had such a perfect time was when he shot 63, in gale-force winds, in the second round at Turnberry seven years ago. When Faldo missed a four-foot putt at the fourth to drop a stroke it gave Norman, playing in front of him, the chance to go for checkmate. Norman had the lead and the confidence to hold it.

An indication of how favourably the course was playing was provided by Payne Stewart who came in with a 63 at about the time the leaders were teeing off. Stewart, one of the pre- championship favourites, equalled the record set by Faldo in the second round and his aggregate of 276 matched the previous lowest for an Open at Royal St George's. The four- under-par figure was established by another American, Bill Rogers, here in 1981. Stewart was dressed in the colours of the Dallas Cowboys and he was one of the more soberly attired golfers on a day when the leaders embraced every colour of the rainbow.

Stewart, second here to Sandy Lyle in 1985, missed a putt from about 30 feet at the 18th that would have given him an Open record of 62. He pointed out the obvious: heavy rain earlier in the week had 'totally changed' the character of the course. 'There is a lack of bounce and roll and that is why you're seeing low scores,' Stewart said. Classic links golf it may not have been but it was none the less riveting stuff.

Paul Lawrie, 24 from Aberdeen, also appeared on the leaderboard after a 65 that contained an eagle two at the 17th where he holed his five-iron approach shot. Lawrie, who won the European Under-25 Championship in Paris last October by a record eight strokes, did not have to qualify here after finishing joint 22nd in the Open at Muirfield 12 months ago. He earned another exemption for Turnberry next year.

Iain Pyman, the 20-year-old amateur champion from the Sand Moor club in Leeds, finished with a 71 and not only did he receive the silver medal as leading amateur but he also wrote a little footnote in the history of the championship. Pyman's total of 281 was the lowest ever recorded by an amateur. He knew he needed a round of 73 or better to do it and was given a warm reception as he walked down the 18th. 'It is something I'll never forget,' he said.

Pyman looked - he was wearing a black, white, yellow and blue shirt - and played like a professional, a status he will almost certainly assume after playing in the Masters at Augusta next year. His father Dennis - they form a potent partnership in the Yorkshire foursomes - caddied for him here. 'I don't know whether he'll carry my bag at Augusta,' Iain said. 'He's getting on a bit and I'm not sure whether he can handle all those hills.' Getting on a bit? Dennis is 41, only three years older than the Open champion.

(Photograph omitted)