Norman's quest is derailed by rocky start

Like sands in the wind, Greg Norman's chances of winning the British Open were blown away by a final-round 77. Like sands in the wind, Greg Norman's chances of winning the British Open were blown away by a final-round 77. (Adrian dennis/AFP/Getty Images)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / July 21, 2008

SOUTHPORT, England - No, the honeymoon isn't over. Just the dream.

Having spent three days scripting a story that no one thought possible - as all the while his wife of three weeks, former tennis queen Chris Evert, walked outside the ropes - Greg Norman asked Saturday night that he be given a day to answer the question: Could he win this 137th British Open.

A day later, as promised, he delivered the answer.

It was no.

Some 10 years removed from that time when he was the world's most consistently good player - an era that can be categorized as BT, as in "Before Tiger" - Norman brought an excitement to Royal Birkdale that had not been anticipated, but was greatly needed. That's because with Woods sidelined while recuperating from knee surgery, the golf world had braced for the possibility of a lackluster major.

Norman made sure it was anything but as he threw himself into the thick of a major for the first time since the 1999 Masters when he was third. The fact that at the end of yesterday's final round he had added another chapter to his book of major championship disappointments is what gnawed at him, and no, he took no solace from being a 53-year-old who had virtually come out of retirement for the fun of it.

"I can stand here now and say, 'Yeah, I'm disappointed,' " said Norman, whose day began with a two-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington, but ended 77 strokes later with a share of third. "Where does it rank? Probably not as high as some of the other ones. Quite honestly, I'm sure I surprised a lot of people."

On the strength of 70-70-72, Norman had secured the 54-hole lead in a major for the eighth time in his career. For sure, the first seven had come during the prime of his career, 1986-1996, but the way most of those tournaments had ended was pretty much the dominating storyline surrounding Norman. He had won just one of those seven opportunities.

Now, he's 1 for 8 as the 54-hole leader in a major, and he tried to explain what went wrong on the first sunny day of this championship though it again featured thrashing winds off of the Irish Sea that were 20-25 miles per hour.

"I thought I got off to a pretty good start," said Norman, though he left folks scratching their heads at that one. That's because he missed two of the first three fairways, each of the first three greens, and went bogey, bogey, bogey to go from two ahead of Harrington to one behind. "But it was a tough day."

There was the deserved praise for Harrington, who would successfully defend his championship, although Norman agreed that his competitor from Ireland appeared determined midway through the round to keep things close. Sloppy birdies at the par-3 seventh, par-4 eighth, and par-4 ninth enabled Norman to head to the back at 6 over, leading Harrington by one, but it wasn't long until the dream began to unfold for the onetime legend.

He bogeyed the par-4 10th in sloppy fashion, lipped out a birdie try at the par-4 11th, and on the next hole watched his par-save attempt on the par 3 lip out for his sixth bogey in 12 holes. When he bogeyed the par-4 13th, he was 9 over and three strokes back.

"Maybe if on 11 and 12 if [the putts] had lipped in instead of out, it's a totally different score," said Norman. "It wasn't meant to be and you've got to take that with a grain of salt."

Norman is one of two men in golf history (Craig Wood being the other) who have lost playoffs in each of the four majors. Also stored away in his memory banks is that Masters when he led by six through 54 holes and lost. And those two US Opens at Shinnecock that he led into Sunday, only to lose. And that Masters he could have won, had he not flared his approach wide right at the 18th hole and made bogey that let Jack Nicklaus win. And that . . .

Well, you get the point. He's had a lot of disappointments in the major championships and this was not only the latest, it quite possibly was the last go-round on the big stage. It had come completely out of the blue, but he didn't sound like a guy who was going to work hard to do it again.

"[The surprising effort] doesn't fire me up to go out there," said Norman, who is committed to the British Senior Open this week and the US Senior Open the week after. "And that's it. I don't plan on playing any more golf after that for a while. I have other things to keep me busy."

It was mentioned that by finishing joint third, Norman had earned a berth in next year's Masters, where he had played for 22 consecutive years before his exemption ran out in 2002. Oh, how Augusta National has been home to some of Norman's greatest moments and most heartbreaking days, so news that he could be heading back there seemed a nice way to offset the disappointment of the day.

"Time out, OK," said Norman. "I've got a lot of water to go over to get to that."

As it had since early Thursday, the wind was flexing its muscle and causing flags to flap with great vigor. Norman explained again that he had felt invigorated this week and that he had been nervous on the walk to the first tee. "But it was a good nervous," he said.

It just didn't translate into a good start, because three straight bogeys made his lead disappear.

What hadn't left, however, even now, as Harrington embraced the claret jug not 100 yards away, was Evert. As he does at every opportunity, Norman paid tribute to his new wife.

"I'm very happy with my life," he said. "It's balanced. It's nice to have a balanced life. I've got a lot of other things to keep my interests."

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