Norman proves worth

Irish Open: Australian at the centre of a rumpus over appearance money lines up a duel with his arch-critic Montgomerie
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The Independent Online
AFTER a week submerged in controversy over his pounds 225,000 fee for appearing in the Murphy's Irish Open, Greg Norman finally broke the surface yesterday. A third-round 65 equalled the Mount Juliet course record, earned him a place at the head of the field and put him into a final-round partnership with Colin Montgomerie that will delight all sadists who have a sense of humour.

The quality of the golf that Norman produced yesterday was responsible for the sudden presence of his black fedora threading its way among the leaders, and it had already ensured that we will not lack for a biting finish today.

However, when Montgomerie sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th to go one ahead of Norman it meant he was adding much piquancy to the promise of today by lining up with the Australian in the final pairing.

When the row over Norman's appearance fee blew up before the start of the tournament, Montgomerie was the most vociferous of those who questioned the payment of such a large lump of money to someone just for turning up. "Outrageous," he called it.

When he heard that capricious fate had brought them together today he put on the bravest of faces. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I am playing as well as I have done and it's nice to be playing the No 1 in the world. He has done himself proud again. He doesn't let himself or the sponsors down very often. All the same, I am very confident of winning."

As Montgomerie added, today's finale concerns more than just him and Norman. David Gilford and Sam Torrance share second place with Norman at 10 under while Wayne Riley, Howard Clark and the young New Zealander Malcolm Campbell are one shot further back on 207. And if the weather is as warm and comfortable as it was yesterday any one of another dozen could come through with a course record.

Inevitably, however, the head-to-head between Norman and Montgomerie will draw the most massive of the impressively large and knowledgeable galleries that have been a feature of this tournament. They flocked after Norman yesterday and it has to be admitted that whatever Norman collects by virtue of commercial dealings, drama invariably results when he lines himself up for a last day surge.

Too often for his comfort, the excitement centres on Norman's habit of faltering over the final stages, yet his appetite for the demands of the big tournament climax never seems to diminish. The appearance fee will put an extra edge on today's activities but, in fairness to him, the sum he is reputed to have received has more to do with a big promotional deal than a mere golf tournament.

The Australian's appeal to the sponsors Murphy's is part of an advertising campaign. Posters are plastered all over Ireland showing a glass of the sponsor's product alongside Norman's trademark fedora with sharks' teeth tucked into the ribbon. The legend compares the great white shark to a great black pint.

Had Norman been a film star, his involvement would not have been questioned and his fee would not have been in the public domain. When you are trying to prise a larger market share from a dominant rival, as Murphy's are, this quality of exposure is invaluable, and if Norman wins today his involvement will have been a bargain.

His play of the first two days gave little hint that he would be so closely concerned in the finish. His rounds of 70 and 71 put him 26 places behind the leader, Sven Struver. It also meant that he teed off a full two hours ahead of the front runners, providing them with the dubious pleasure of watching his name shoot up the leaderboard.

The action which set him up for the best round of the day came at the second and third greens when he holed putts of 35 and 40 feet. "That made a great difference to my confidence," he said. He had a setback at the sixth when he missed a nine footer but he turned in 33 and launched an attack on the more difficult back nine that at one time looked certain to bring a course record.

He picked up three more birdies before reaching the 17th where he put a three wood to the green. He was at least 50 feet away but he rolled it in confidently for an eagle. A par at the last would have given him a 64 but his second shot went through the green and his chip left him seven feet short. He mis-read the line to finish with a bogey.

"I sank all the long putts and missed the short ones," he said, "but I played exceptionally well. My game wasn't as crisp as it can be." It was crisp enough to overtake all but one of the 26 who were in front of him and to set up a climax worthy of a large investment.