Golf: The round that beat the best: Robert Green reflects on the skill and tenacity displayed by Greg Norman in his drive for the Open Championship

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GREG NORMAN'S last drive of the day at Sandwich last Sunday was as straight as the rest. He climbed into a red Rolls-Royce, the Open Championship trophy safely in the boot, and steered the car unerringly in the direction of his private aircraft. The way he felt, he could probably have crossed the Atlantic without wings.

There are three points to consider in particular in evaluating Norman's achievement: how he won, who he beat, and how he overcame the psychological burden of past disappointments to win both his second Open and his second major championship. (His first was in 1986.)

Norman started with a double-bogey at the first hole and ended by shooting 267, not only the lowest total in Open history but the lowest in any major. It was only the fourth time 270 has been bettered. Tom Watson shot 268 to beat Jack Nicklaus by a stroke at Turnberry in 1977, so in finishing two shots adrift of Norman this year, Nick Faldo proved that if you shoot 269, you lose.

Norman described Faldo as 'the most tenacious golfer on this planet'. Norman's golf was out of this world. He was the first Open champion to break 70 in all four rounds, and his closing 64 was the lowest by a winner. But records are there to be broken. The most important thing for Norman was that his was the best score in the 1993 Open.

It has to be conceded that Royal St George's played more easily than is customary, but it was the calibre of the golf produced by the protagonists that chiefly inspired Norman to such a breathtaking display.

His golf was more dazzling than his clothing, and certainly better. He drove it where he was supposed to on every hole - almost the only green he missed was with his putter (on the seventh), and the only putt he missed under 10 feet was that 14-incher on the 17th, when it did not matter. His confidence was so high that he never even contemplated hitting an iron off the daunting 14th tee, from where his playing partner, Bernhard Langer, had just dispatched his ball out-of-bounds. Come to mention it, Norman's concentration was so absolute that he claimed he had not even noticed what Langer had done. He just grabbed the driver proferred by his caddy, Tony Navarro, and split another fairway. 'I hadn't missed a drive all day,' he explained. 'Why should I miss one then?'

His self-belief was so unshakable that even the tiddler that eluded the Great White Shark on the 17th green could not deflect him from his prey. His drive at the 18th, the most important of his life, was another peerless effort. 'That was the greatest golf I've ever seen,' Langer told him as they acknowledged the tumultuous applause on that marvellous walk up to the 18th green. Norman called it 'the best golf I've ever played'.

Tom Watson said: 'Greg played one of the greatest rounds in British Open history to beat one of the great golfers in British Open history - Nick Faldo.' In fact, Norman beat one of the greatest leaderboards in history. Going into the last round, the top 10 players had between them won eight of the 14 majors held in the 1990s, and they included the top five on the Sony Rankings. But although Norman started the final round just a shot behind Faldo and Corey Pavin, and level with Bernhard Langer, he was only the fourth favourite in the betting. Here is why.

Norman has suffered more heartbreaks than Elizabeth Taylor; more bad breaks than a jockey. In 1984, he lost a play-off for the US Open. In 1986, he needed a par at the last hole to tie for the Masters but took a bogey; later that year, Bob Tway holed a bunker shot at the last hole to beat him in the USPGA Championship. In 1987, Norman lost a play-off for the Masters when Larry Mize chipped in from 30 yards. In 1989, he again needed a par at the last hole to tie for the Masters and again he took a bogey; later that year he lost a play-off for the Open when he drove into a bunker and then went out-of-bounds at the final hole. And they are only the highlights of the low points.

Having long been ranked the best golfer in the world, Norman went from May 1990 to September 1992 without winning. In October 1991, he started working with a new coach, Butch Harmon, who diagnosed that Norman had a co-ordination problem. 'I had been too loose with my lower body,' Norman explained. If that makes him sound like a hooker, in fact his tendency had been to slice or block the ball under pressure. Harmon made him tighten up his game and abbreviate his swing. The new action should enable Norman, 38, to stay at the top for several years.

It is impossible to overstate the quality of Norman's performance at Sandwich. In all the circumstances, his 64 was one of the greatest rounds of golf ever played. Unlike such epics as Johnny Miller's 63 in the 1973 US Open, or Gary Player's 64 at the 1978 Masters, or Norman's own, ultimately futile, 64 in the 1989 Open, this was a winning finale fashioned while permanently in the heat of contention.

Above all, perhaps, the resilience Norman demonstrated - the fearlessness with which he plunged into a star-studded confrontation that could have resulted in yet another mentally damaging denouement - was immense. Battle-scarred he may be, but battle-scared he is not.

His triumph was a popular one. Apart from proving that blond Australians can make a comeback (so hope for Kylie Minogue there), Norman has at last reaped a rich reward for the gracious manner in which he invariably conducted himself throughout those devastating losses.

In an almost autobiographical comment, Seve Ballesteros remarked: 'A lot of people said Greg would not win a major again. They said the same thing about Langer before he won the Masters. This shows people have to be patient. Good players can have bad times but then have good times again.'

'The disappointments will always be there,' Norman said last Sunday night. 'They're history. I wish I could say that I beat Mize, beat Tway, but I didn't'

After a moment, he added: 'But I always believed I could do it. I came back.'

Yes, Greg. We noticed.

Robert Green is the editor of 'Golf World'

(Photograph omitted)

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