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The Shark had the look of the tiger about him Saturday at Royal Birkdale. (Photo: Getty Images)

Is the Great White Shark ready for one more attack?

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OK, he has our attention now. Three rounds of solid, and at times spectacular, golf at Royal Birkdale in brutal conditions have made sure of that. But can Greg Norman and his 53-year-old body close the deal and make history by winning the 137th Open Championship? Stay tuned.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

SOUTHPORT, England -- Two shots up. Eighteen to play.

Dare we think it?

Damn straight.

This isn't just a nice little story anymore. It's not an amusing thought or a fleeting moment. It's not a feel-good one round and out.

Greg Norman really could win this 137th Open Championship come Sunday afternoon.

At 53. Fifteen years after he won his second Claret Jug. Years past what we figured was his prime. Two major surgeries and a cleanout or two since we last put him on a short list. Three days after he sat there and told us his expectations for this week were low.

Norman has played his you-know-what off this week at Royal Birkdale. He opened with a pair of 70s, then carved out a third-round 72 on a day he called one of the three hardest rounds he's ever played.

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Those steel-blue eyes bored tunnels through the wind. His let a quarter century of Open Championship experience guide his shots. Those deep wrinkles faded as he cranked up the intensity and had us remembering the old days.

Norman isn't playing out of his mind, but rather within it. He's playing within himself, with a maturity and composure that comes with those low expectations he keeps talking about.

He's leading defending champion Padraig Harrington and stoic K.J. Choi by two shots, and Simon Wakefield, whose career has been overshadowed by his famous cricket wicketkeeper uncle Bob Taylor, by three. Anthony Kim, a major-in-waiting, is five back, tied with 2003 Open champ Ben Curtis, Ross Fisher and Swede/Oklahoma State-ex Alexander Noren.

Just like the old days, all eyes are on Norman, who had to be a 500-to-1 shot at the start of the week.

And you thought golf would be boring without one Tiger Woods.

What we have unfolding here on the wind-whipped dunes bordering the Irish Sea is a major as exciting, with even more twists and personality, than the one that just captivated us at Torrey Pines.

We go from the best player in the world pulling off the unbelievable on one good leg, from Rocco Mediate going from journeyman to golf's newest rock star to the former best player in the game trying to hold off everyone from two of the top players in the world to a kid younger than his daughter Morgan Leigh. From Tiger getting one step closer to Jack Nicklaus' record after an iconic battle to Norman trying his hardest to make 53 the new 33.

And did we mention that if that happens, he -- one of the men who was run down by Nicklaus at Augusta in 1986 -- would become the oldest major champion in history? By five years.

How does that grab him?

"Well, I'm not going to get ahead of myself," Norman said. "Ask me that question tomorrow night if that happens, okay?"

Trust us. We will.

But just like Norman, we can't get ahead of ourselves. The Shark, the man who was Tiger before Tiger, may be the focus, but he's not the whole story.

Harrington came into the week not knowing if he could play with a sore wrist. He was 50-50 Wednesday night and now he's right there with a chance to go follow Tiger (2005-2006) with his own back-to-back titles.

A year ago, he came from six shots back in the final round to beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff at Carnoustie. Now, he's going head-to-head with Norman in the final pairing.

"Last year I was going into the last round under no particular stress, just go out there and play and anything can happen," said Harrington, who shot a third-round 72. "Tomorrow I'd love to have the same attitude, but you know, obviously it's going to be a tighter day."

Choi? Norman played with him Saturday and was impressed with the Korean, who has made his home in Texas. His demeanor, his attitude, his ball-striking.

"He's always going to be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow and going forward," Norman said. "Very impressed with his golf."

Kim, who's won twice this year, is right there ready to pull a young Tiger. Curtis surprised everyone with a 70 and Mediate -- remember him? -- is lurking six back.

Sunday is expected to be a breeze compared to Saturday. Pun intended. The winds are expected to whip at a mere 25 miles an hour compared to Saturday's tree-bending gusts to 48 mph.

"If it was high winds, it would probably give me my best chance of winning, yes," Harrington said. "Saying that, high winds, it can mean you could go
... a guy can go from leading or close to leading right out of a tournament."

Indeed. The dominoes started to fall about 3 p.m. and kept tumbling. A two-shot swing here. A fall from grace. An upward move -- after signing a scorecard. Think about all those old exciting Augusta back nines spread over 18 holes.

Yes, Norman has our attention, but what else is new? No one has captured our attention more -- for the incredible wins and those devastating losses.

This week he's got new bride Chris Evert by his side and he's the one who's glowing. He's admitted he's playing more tennis than golf these days. He's taking life as it comes and pacing himself. He's taking life and golf as it comes.

No one in the locker room is too surprised, either.

He was No. 1 in the world, Woody Austin pointed out. All he has to do is tap into it.

Harrington has seen him go through the motions at tournaments when his mind is on business. "But when he wants it, you know, and he's as fit a 53 year old as there is, so once he puts his mind to it, he certainly can play," Harrington said. "He hasn't lost any of his ability."

Saturday afternoon, he refused to get pulled into what-ifs.

He admits he'll be as nervous stepping to the tee Sunday afternoon as he was teeing off in the third round, which he says is a good thing. He's managed his game and the golf course superbly. He's content -- with what he's done the first three days, but more importantly, with life.

How bad does he want this? Just look into his eyes.

If you'd told him a month ago he'd be leading the Open Championship by two with one round to play, he would have said, "Oh, really?"
Now, the question is, can he hang on?

"I can't answer that question now," he said with a grin.

"We'll find out."

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