Golf: Shark turns rivals green

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He may be 42 years of age, have flown more than six million miles in his career and have passed up a chance to play the part of a matador, but Greg Norman has kept his nerve and sense of adventure well intact. Norman's four-under-par 68 in the third round of the Peugeot Spanish Open took him to the top of the leaderboard at nine under.

The Great White Shark saved his adventures for the greens of the La Moraleja course, which consists of both Poannua and Bent grasses. "The combination makes it very difficult," Norman said. "Some putts defy gravity and go uphill and some don't break as much as you think they will.

"If you tried to analyse it, you'd go crazy. You have a 10-footer which you should hit firm, but then you have a three-footer back. I had four today and hope I don't tomorrow. It's nerve-racking, but there is nothing wrong with my nerves. I'll still jump in with the sharks."

Tigers and bulls may be a different matter, but here the two-time Open champion will face challenges from four players who are one shot behind: the overnight leader Mark James, who slipped back with a 73, Peter Mitchell, Rolf Muntz and David Howell, who equalled David Carter's best of the day 67. Carter, in his second tournament after returning from emergency brain surgery in Dubai, is one of six players at seven under par.

Norman is chasing his 73rd title in a career where his losses have been as spectacular as his victories. On his return to Augusta two weeks ago, he missed the cut, but says the book on his 1996 Masters defeat by Nick Faldo is now closed. "It was a tough 52 weeks," he said. "It was like water torture, drip, drip, drip. I worked hard on my mind going into Augusta but I just didn't have a good scoring week."

A top-six finish will leapfrog him over the American Tom Lehman back into the top spot on the world rankings, but the Australian has not interrupted his round-the-world-trip for a tournament in Japan this week to aim for anything less than a victory. "It is always nice to look back and see the national titles you have won," Norman said. "I haven't won the Spanish Open."

The celebrity that he is, Norman would fit in at the exclusive estate that is La Moraleja. The homes of Madrid's "in crowd" have taken up all the fine views, leaving the No 2 golf course to face the tenement blocks of the outskirts of the city on the opposite hill.

A landfill rubbish mountain has at least been turfed over; for the World Cup in 1992, it was painted green. Still, it is not the best setting in which to find inspiration and Seve Ballesteros, on his first Saturday outing of the season, dropped back to level par with a 73.

For the third day running, the European Ryder Cup captain put his ball into the same lake, though yesterday he did so from the fifth tee rather than saving it for the sixth. The difference between Ballesteros this week and previously this season is that he has been making enough birdies to compensate for any wayward shots and yesterday four came in five holes around the turn.

Having sacked his caddie, Martin Gray, on Friday, Ballesteros's 16-year- old nephew Raul, who has a handicap of 2.4, was carrying the clubs. "He did very well," the uncle said. "I have always had the idea for him to caddie for me. He is a great player, but it is too early to predict how good he will be. Will he be as good as me? We will have to wait and see."