July 20, 2008

Gale More Like Breeze for Shark


FOR a guy standing on the verge of history Greg Norman couldn't have looked more relaxed.

With that flowing blond hair, surfer's tan and Aussie drawl you would be forgiven for thinking he'd been catching a few waves off Bondi 10 minutes earlier.

When so many lost their heads on one of the wildest days ever to hit The Open Championship it seemed like a breeze to this remarkable 53-year-old.

And he has every right to be laid back, sitting pretty with a two- shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington and KJ Choi going into a fascinating final day.

Maybe Norman NEEDS to be easy going because when it comes to blowing bigger leads than this on the final day of a Major, this guy has serious previous.

Scars from the day he haemorrhaged a six-shot lead at the 1996 Masters to hand Nick Faldo victory are deep - and it's by no means the only time the Aussie's emotions choked the life out of him.

So last night's seemingly effortless performance - after signing for a stunning two-over-par round of 72 - was perhaps as much a man defending himself as one high on life and new love.

No talk of the past, leave the future until 6pm tomorrow and cling to the moment for dear life.

He could eclipse Jack Nicklaus - who won the US Masters in 1986 as a 46-year-old - by lifting The Open at the grand age of 53.

But Norman - runner up to the Golden Bear at Augusta 22 years ago - won't think about it until the Claret Jug is in his hands.

He said: "Ask me about that tomorrow night if it happens, ok? I'm not going to get ahead of myself.

"I have a chance but there's a lot of golf to be played and I must play my game. I'll answer a lot of different questions tomorrow night if I have to.

"I'd put today in the top three hardest rounds I've ever played. I've played under tougher weather conditions but in the third round of a Major at Royal Birkdale it was brutal."

At the start of the week Norman told reporters he thought a dark horse would challenge for this tournament.

But instead it has been a Great White Shark defying the odds (a staggering 500-1) to grab the initiative.

And what a round it was yesterday. Three bogeys in six holes and a double on the 10th had you wondering if the old man was fading.

But a gutsy (or should that be gusty?) fightback saw him steady the ship then claim back a couple of shots at 14 and 17.

He almost put the icing on the cake by chipping in for another birdie at the last but had more than done his job.

And Norman admits the nerves are starting to kick in.

He added: "I'll be honest. I walked to the first tee nervous and that was a good indicator for me. I haven't felt that way for 10 years - maybe longer.

"So I was excited about being there, I wanted to be there."

Norman - who last won The Open in 1993 - will be advised not to look over his shoulder today or those butterflies might burst out of his stomach.

Harrington, his partner for the day, sits just two back beside Choi on four over.

Simon Wakefield's stunning 70 yesterday puts him in the hunt on five over with a raft of big names loitering with intent on seven and eight over.

But no doubt Harrington will be the main threat as he mounts a superb defence of his title despite fearing he wouldn't finish the first round after a wrist injury scare.

The Irishman admits he's feeling the pressure far more this time than at Carnoustie when he snuck up quietly on leader Sergio Garcia.

Harrington said: "Last year I was going into the last round under no stress.

"Tomorrow I'd love to have the same attitude but it's going to be a tighter day.

"Last year the only person I was focused on wasme because I knew I needed to go forward to have a chance.

"But now a steady day could be good enough. When he's interested Greg can really play.

He knocked the socks off me in an exhibition match and you could see he wanted to play.

"But I have seen him turn up at courses other times when he's looking at the design and has things on his mind.

"When he wants it, and he's as fit a 53-year-old as there is, Greg certainly can play."

Choi admitted the nightmare Merseyside conditions left him fearing for his game.

The Korean said: "I couldn't control my tee shot or putting, I was scared when I took a backswing because the wind was moving the ball about.

"However, I'm still in a decent position."

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