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'More relaxed, more comfortable' Norman refuses to fold
Forget that Greg Norman will be competing in the Senior Open Championship next week at Royal Troon. The 53-year-old Shark still has more business to take care of at the 137th Open Championship.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
SOUTHPORT, England -- Greg Norman spotted Rocco Mediate on the putting green at Royal Birkdale earlier this week and immediately walked over to the 45-year-old veteran to offer his congratulations.
"Rocco, the best thing to happen to the game of golf was what you did at the U.S. Open," Norman told the man who finished runner-up to Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines last month.
"You've got a great player in Tiger Woods. ... But for everybody to see that you can put yourself into position no matter who you are or what you do or what your qualifications are or how old you are, if you truly want it, you can do it, (was huge)."
Norman's words may prove prophetic, as much for himself as for Mediate, this weekend as the 137th Open Championship winds toward its conclusion on Sunday. The 53-year-old Norman appears to have found the Fountain of Youth here on the shores of the Irish Sea, contending once again at the world's oldest major championship, a tournament he has won twice already.
Norman fired his second straight round of even-par 70 on Friday to trail K.J. Choi by one stroke. He's one stroke ahead of Camilo Villegas, who was born the same year as the Aussie's 25-year-old daughter, while the also-ageless Mediate heads a large group at 2 over, just three strokes off the pace.
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"If I'm a young kid at the age of 21, 23, I'm going to go, 'Oh, my gosh, 30 years, I can still have a chance of being there?'" Norman said, pondering the possibilities. "That's a pretty good testament in a lot of ways and shows that there is a lot of resolve in this game of golf, from Rocco Mediate to myself to a Tom Watson.
"You've just got to know that you can do it if you really, really want to do it."
And make no mistake about it, Norman, who will be competing at the Senior Open Championship next week at Royal Troon, does want it. Playing in his 26th Open, he's bidding to become the oldest major winner in the history of this storied game -- by five years -- a fitting exclamation point to a World Golf Hall of Fame career.
But can a man who is now eligible to join AARP really get the job done? Maybe, maybe not. But Norman, who married tennis legend Chris Evert three weeks ago, is as relaxed and renewed as he's been in a long, long time.
"I think that it all comes down to the individual," Norman said. "If you keep yourself physically fit what happens with athletes, I think, when you get to the mid 40s, late 40s, your body just really doesn't react to the way your minds wants it to react. Your mind is sharp, you still want to do it, you still feel it, you still feel comfortable and relaxed in your hands, but sometimes your lower back and your body won't let you do it."
The 51-year-old Mark O'Meara knows what Norman means. O'Meara, who won the Masters and the last Open at Birkdale in a career-definining 1998 season, isn't surprised to see the larger-than-life Aussie playing so well, though.
"He just got remarried. He's probably very happy right now," said O'Meara, who missed the cut Friday and will join Norman at Royal Troon next week. "He's got his life in order. He's rejuvenated and he's been playing some pretty good golf the last three or four months."
Norman thinks all the tennis he's been playing with Evert -- he calls himself an 18-20 handicapper and says "I'm just learning how to get it back across the net" -- has made him more limber, strengthened that cranky back and increased his cardiovascular health. Intensely driven in his youth, Norman has finally found a way to enjoy the game and a muse in Evert who understands the commitment it takes to excel.
"My life is great," he said. "I've got a wonderful wife, and my whole being that's going on around here is just beautiful, to tell you the truth. So obviously it makes you feel more relaxed, makes you feel more comfortable about what you're doing and where you are. ... There will be more pressure tomorrow and Sunday but honestly, there's probably less pressure on me than anybody out here because even though I'm in the position I am in, I'm going to go out there and just say, hey, just go have fun with it.
"I've been here before. Hopefully I can play one shot at a time and go with it and just relax and enjoy every step of the way, which is a little different philosophy. A lot of the old veteran reporters in here probably know that some of the interviews I used to have in here, I wouldn't be saying those words as easily as what I would have done 25, 30 years ago."
Norman, who finished sixth at the Senior PGA Championship in May, knows what it's like to see someone catch lightning in a bottle like he has done through the first two rounds this week at Birkdale. He led all four majors entering the final round in 1986 and won only the Open Championship at Turnberry.
In an odd twist of fate, Norman was the one Jack Nicklaus overtook when he became the oldest winner of the Masters at the age of 46 years, 2 months and 23 days. Only Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship and Tom Morris Sr. at the 1867 Open were older when they won their majors.
Norman admits his expectations were "almost nil" as he came to Birkdale on his extended honeymoon. Wedding plans took precedence and it wasn't until he and his new wife spent several days at Skibo Castle that he even picked up a golf club to work out the kinks.
At the same time, when a reporter wondered if Norman had already made alternative plans for the weekend, he firmly said no, adding, with a wry and withering smile, "Boy, I miss you guys," to an interview room as crowded as for any Sunday champion's press conference.
Now that he's staying around for the full 72 holes, Norman knows the intensity will increase as the weekend progresses. Right now, he's trying hard not to get caught up in the euphoria and excitement surrounding his phenomenal performance over the first two rounds. There will be time enough for the nerves to kick in.
"Everything kind of gets a little bit more intense as each hole goes by, and it's no different for the leader as it is for everybody else," Norman said. "Everybody else is either trying to push the leader or everybody wants to be the leader, so they're under the same amount of pressure.
"And at the same time, you know, from my perspective, really, the weekend is the weekend, but when it really gets down to the nuts and bolts of it, it's Sunday afternoon. Whether it's coming down 16, 17, or whether it's coming down 18 or whether you're making the turn, that's when it really starts probably piling up on you, and you just have to wait until that moment arrives to try and take advantage of it."
He's been there. Done that. Can Norman do it again and make this Open Championship one for the ages?