Norman the Shark bites back to set Open pace
Friday 18 July 2008
Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water, golf's "Great White Shark" has bared his teeth again. Amazingly, Greg Norman could be Open champion again on Sunday night.
At the age of 53 and after a countdown to Royal Birkdale in which he spent more time playing tennis with new wife Chris Evert than working on his game, Norman has turned back the clock these past two days.
A closing 20-foot par putt - adrenalin from the ovation he received coming onto the green may have caused him to charge his long birdie attempt - gave the Australian, champion in 1986 and 1993, a second successive level par 70 while many of the current generation of stars struggled again.
Now, much to his huge surprise, he has an opportunity to become comfortably the oldest winner of any major. American Julius Boros was 48 when he lifted the 1968 US PGA title.
With the late starters, including many of the pre-tournament favourites, trying to make up at least some of the ground lost in Thursday morning's foul weather Norman led by one from Colombian debutant Camilo Villegas as the second day's play drew towards its close.
First round leaders Graeme McDowell, Rocco Mediate and Robert Allenby were in all at two over following 73s and had been joined by former US Open champion Jim Furyk, joint fourth on the same links 10 years ago, and Swede Alex Noren.
While still determined to keep his expectations low - he put them at "almost nil" entering the week - former world number one Norman is still a golfer with dreams.
"My mind still wants to perform well," he said.
"I really don't have the physically ability to go out there and hit balls six to eight to 10 hours a day like I used to, but my mind still salivates.
"I still cherish it, I relish it. When I come back from a good practice session I feel great about it."
There just have not been many of those lately, though.
He and Evert were married in the Bahamas on June 28 following a divorce settlement with his first wife reported at more than £50million.
"My mind the last month has been elsewhere, justifiably so. We had a lot of preparation getting ready for the wedding.
"Life is great. I've got a wonderful wife and obviously it makes you feel more relaxed. When we're home (he has moved into her house in Florida) we probably play tennis three, four, sometimes five times a week.
"I am just learning. I'm about a 20 or 18-handicapper."
Evert, who puts her husband's ability considerably better than that, was known as "Ice Maiden" as she won 18 Grand Slam titles.
Norman has only two majors and added: "I wish I had her level of success - she won 91% of the matches she's ever played. We don't try and compare what we've done!"
They both have vast experience, of course, and Evert is set to play her part in preparing him for an opportunity he never expected to come.
"He is very relaxed right now and I'm there to try to keep it that way," she said.
"Never in a million years did he have any expectations at this tournament - he decided to play this as a warm-up for the Seniors Open next week.
"We'll try to keep things normal - talk to the kids and I might keep the newspapers away from him! But I don't ever want to take credit for anything. If he ever starts playing badly I don't want to be to blame."
Colin Montgomerie, so hopeful of being a contender after an opening 73, had started to play badly.
After a double-bogey six on the second he triple-bogeyed the fifth when he failed to move his ball in dense rough behind the fifth green and had to take a penalty drop, then double-bogeyed the next.
That was seven shots gone to put him 10 over and in deep danger of missing the halfway cut for the seventh time in his last eight majors. It would be a huge blow to his Ryder Cup chances, but he did then birdie the next two.
Defending champion Padraig Harrington, doubtful before the start with a wrist injury, stood six over with five to play, while Justin Rose and Lee Westwood were five over and seven over after 15 and nine respectively.
Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, who began with 79 and 80, still faced an uphill battle to survive the cut at 10 over entering the back nine.
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