Golf: The Open Championship: How the Great White Shark redressed the balance of history

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The Independent Online
THE YOUNG man relaying scores to the leaderboards could not hide his partiality. 'And the legendary Greg Norman,' he said into a walkie-talkie accustomed to more sobriety 'is as great as ever'. The eulogy had been provoked by a birdie two.

He was an exception on an afternoon heavy with humidity and foreboding. The legend at the forefront of most minds was not one of greatness but that of the 38-year-old Australian's fragile temperament, which has robbed him of many major championships. There were thousands of heads with one thought: 'When would Norman crack?'

Every golfer carries scars with his clubs but none had his need for healing. He has a list of second and third places that is read like a criminal record rather than a litany of achievement. In 1986 he acquired a 'Saturday Slam' of third-round leads in all the majors and still managed to worry the trophy engravers only once, at the Open in Turnberry. He is marketed as 'The Great White Shark', but few would argue that 'The Great White Flag' was not more appropriate.

The consensus was that the grandstands lining the last three greens would be peppered by strokes contorted by Norman's nerves. Shouts of 'Come on Greg,' echoed across Royal St George's but they were more of hope than of conviction. Nobody really expected him to hang on to a lead he had established by the fourth hole and had moulded into a two- stroke advantage by the turn.

The fissure duly appeared, but it was Norman's playing partner, Bernhard Langer, who fell into it. At the 14th the German sliced viciously with his driver into the rough. The ball was in knee-high grass which belonged not to Royal St George's but to the Prince's course next door. He was out of bounds and out of contention.

Now only Nick Faldo was dogging Norman - and he has caused men of greater reputations for steadiness to wobble. At the next hole Norman under-clubbed an approach. It left him with a difficult shot uphill from off the green which begged to be taken in three rather than the regulation two. The preconceived script demanded him to leave his first attempt short and then invoke the demons of his past by making a bogey. At first he was word-perfect, leaving the ball 14 feet from the hole, and we all knew the last place his next putt would end. We were wrong. It landed in the hole.

When the mistake came it did not matter. A careless miss from a foot on the 17th had Norman's nerves written all over it, but the championship was already won. It was his only error and by then a six-under-par 64 and the finest finishing round by a winner in the history of the tournament beckoned.

In all Norman made seven birdies, an unprecedented achievement when every stroke was undertaken with the championship at stake, and as he aproached the 18th green Langer, always a gracious opponent, turned to him and said: 'That was the greatest round I have ever seen.' The German had scored a 67, despite his seven at the 14th, and on most days that would have been enough. Yesterday it left him three strokes adrift.

During the afternoon a plane had flown above Sandwich with the words 'Put an ad in the hole' trailing from its fuselage but as the winner received the Open trophy the message had changed to 'Well done Greg'.

It was entirely appropriate. Norman had been filling the hole all day.

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