Norman's conquest

Sunday, July 13, 2003

SANDWICH, England -- It would be easy to call Greg Norman a final-round flop in the majors, if not for Royal St. George's.

There was that meltdown at the Masters.

He forever will be linked with the Saturday Slam, when he had the outright lead after the third round of all four majors in 1986 and took home only one trophy.

The only man to lose all four majors in a playoff? Norman, of course.

But to say the Shark fainted whenever he smelled blood is to overlook what happened 10 years ago on the quirky links of southeastern England.

"One of the better ones," Norman said while preparing his return to Royal St. George's for the 132nd British Open -- his first major of an injury-plagued year.

That's a more modest assessment than when Norman clutched the silver claret jug that day after a 64 and said, "I'm just in awe of myself for the way I hit the golf ball."

Even more impressive were the guys he beat.

Tough company

Imagine Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in the final pairing of a major, playing ahead of Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, with the names of Davis Love III, David Toms, Mike Weir and Nick Price on a crowded leaderboard.

That's what Norman faced in the final round of the '93 British Open.

"When I look back on that time, what really hits home is the fact my tournament record still stands," Norman said of his 267. "The other thing is that we had eight to 10 players, all playing their best golf.

"I have never played in another tournament where that has been the case," he said. "Normally, you go head-to-head with one or two individuals. This was eight."

At the top was Nick Faldo, who had beaten him so badly three years earlier in the third round at St. Andrews (67 to 76) that Norman went into the deepest slump of his career.

Faldo was paired with Corey Pavin, both tied for the lead at 8-under 202.

Norman and Masters champion Bernhard Langer were another stroke behind, followed by the likes of Nick Price, Fred Couples, Wayne Grady, Tom Kite and Mark Calcavecchia, all of them former major champions.

A brief downpour ended right before Norman teed off in the second-to-last group, leaving behind patchy blue skies and 15 mph gusts.

"I knew 18 straight pars by Nick Faldo was not going to cut the mustard," Norman said, a reference to how Faldo won his first British Open at Muirfield six years earlier. "I knew I had to shoot low. You had eight of the best players in the world."

A hot start

Norman hit wedge into 4 feet for birdie on the opening hole, and he took the lead for good when Faldo missed a short par putt on No. 4.

Norman never gave Faldo a chance, and despite missing an 18-inch par putt on the 17th, he won by two strokes.

When it was over, even the legends were impressed.

"I have never seen such golf," Gene Sarazen said.

Norman never won another major.

A month later, his cruel destiny returned at Inverness in the 1993 PGA Championship, where a birdie putt in a sudden-death playoff somehow lipped out and Paul Azinger beat him with a par on the second extra hole.

He had four other chances in the majors, none better than his six-stroke lead over Faldo in '96 at Augusta National.

Norman is left with 86 victories worldwide, 19 finishes in the top five at majors, and one final round that he won't forget.

"People are going to remember everything about him, all the good stuff and all the bad things that happened to him," fellow Australian Robert Allenby once said. "But they'll always remember him for the show he put on."

There hasn't been much of anything lately, except for riches in golf course design, clothing, wine, real estate and just about any other business Norman pursues.

Health problems

As for the golf?

Despite his fitness -- he was one of the first golfers that resembled an athlete -- Norman had shoulder surgery in 1998 and hip surgery two years later. Lately, he has been sidelined by a bad back, the result of hitting more balls than he can remember.

He has played twice this year, withdrawing after a 78 from The Players Championship, and tying for 65th at 3-over 283 in the Byron Nelson Classic.

He is 223rd on the money list. He is No. 190 in the world ranking.

And he is as optimistic as ever.

"I've been able to practice the last couple of weeks, and the doctors have given me a thumbs-up," Norman said. "I've got a very hectic schedule of tournament play, and I'm excited about playing again."

Can he recreate the magic of 10 years ago, against players like Woods, Els and Singh?

Norman knows anything can happen on a links course, especially at Royal St. George's.

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