July 13, 2005

Norman pays price for hitting 4.5 million balls

By Jon Bramley

ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Twice British Open
champion Greg Norman says his expectations are "zero" this week
after a major back operation this year, the price for hitting
around 4.5 million balls during this career.

The 50-year-old Queenslander, winner in 1986 and 1993, had
the chronic condition fixed this year with an operation to
improve his mobility and remove a sharp pain down his leg.

"I am just glad to be here because when I decided to have
surgery on my back, I said to my doctor that all I wanted was
to be in good enough shape to be here this week," he told
reporters Wednesday.

"It was an intense procedure and I was under the knife for
two hours.

"All I wanted to do when I came out of the operating room
was wiggle my toes on my right leg to see if everything was
okay and know that I was not paralyzed."

Norman is a former world number one but failed to build on
his two British Open victories with a number of close calls in
other major tournaments.

His last big chance came in the 1996 U.S. Masters when he
held a six-shot final-round but famously crumbled on the last
day at Augusta to allow Briton Nick Faldo to snatch his sixth
and final major.

The big, blond Australian said he has no regrets following
three decades of tournament golf and endless practice.

"I have enjoyed everything I've done in my career and I
would not have changed anything," he said.

"I have enjoyed all the golf balls I have hit and we
estimate that I have hit over 4.5 million balls in my career. I
would not change and now I feel okay and feel I can play."

Norman also had advice for any gamblers tempted by his long
odds -- 200-1 with London bookmaker William Hill -- for a third
Open title this week.

"I am just going out to enjoy myself," he said. "I have
zero expectations and I can't have any because I have not
played a tournament since the Heineken Classic in February.

"Now it's about getting into the position where I feel I
can swing a golf club."