Greg Norman remains a fan favorite on the western coast of Scotland. (How/Getty Images)
Can Norman top 2008? He's eager to give it a try
Greg Norman shocked the world with this stellar showing at Birkdale last year. He thinks he's got a chance again this year at Turnberry where, Helen Ross notes, he won the first of his two Open titles.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Tiger Woods dreams big and more often than not, has the wherewithal to turn those visions into reality.
When he reaches his 50s, though, the goal of the game’s No. 1 player is modest.
“It would be nice to be above dirt,” Woods said with a smile.
We should all be so lucky. A year ago at Royal Birkdale, though, the 53-year-old Greg Norman was kicking that dirt in the faces of guys half his age as he took a two-stroke lead into the final round and finished third at the Open Championship.
Whether Norman can turn back the clock again this week remains to be seen. But don’t forget the 138th renewal of the game’s oldest championship is being contested at Turnberry, where Norman won the first of his two Open championships.
And we saw last year how experience can level the playing field -- particularly on a links course with those capricious winds, sand dunes and deadly pot bunkers.
“It is always a factor because you're not as physically strong, your endurance is probably not as great as someone in their 20s or 30s,” Norman said. “But at the same time, you have the experience. … I used my experience under the adverse conditions very, very well, even though I hadn't played much or practiced much.
“So you draw on the experience, knowing where to go and where not to go. Knowing how to play the conditions, and sometimes a par is like a birdie in many occasions and just keeping your patience as best you can.”
Lest anyone forget, Norman shot a brilliant 63 that he ranks among his four best rounds on Friday at Turnberry in 1984. And he three-putted his final two holes that miserable day on the craggy Scottish coast of the Irish Sea.
“Greg played probably one of the finest rounds of golf in Open history, finish out that 63 in that windstorm,” five-time champ Tom Watson recalled. “It's incredible. I'm out there shooting 75, and I think that's a pretty good round of golf. And he is shooting 63.”
Norman drove the ball exceptionally well that day, as he will need to do this week with the rough that lines the Ailsa Course grown so gnarly, tall and thick.
“That was one of my fortes in my heyday,” acknowledged Norman, who estimated balls just 10 feet off line might be lost this week. “So I didn't have a problem just pulling my driver out and just playing the whole golf course aggressively. I maneuvered the ball very well. …
“In those days I was worried about spinning it back into the burn, instead of worrying about carrying the burn. … It was one of my better rounds, yeah.”
Just like last year was one of Norman’s most memorable championships -- even though he didn’t win.
He came to Royal Birkdale a newlywed, married just two weeks earlier to tennis great Chris Evert. The couple honeymooned at Skibo Castle before Norman took his wife to England and introduced Evert to what has become for him a game for the ageless.
“She would love to compete, but she knows the younger tennis players, it's totally different,” Norman said. “Tom and I talked about this at dinner the other night. … And I said here's a guy turning 60 this year and a guy who's turning 55, we can still compete against kids who are in their 20s.”
And that he did. Although Norman protested he’d been playing more tennis than golf, his Hall of Fame game showed little rust. He trailed by one after each of the first two rounds and led by a tantalizing two entering the final round.
Evert, who walked every hole, had clearly energized him. She understands the dedication and determination he needed to compete at the highest level, and she was the perfect complement to her husband’s proud demeanor.
“She was more exhausted than I was, to tell you the truth,” Norman said. “It's like when you're not in the arena and you're pulling for somebody, it actually drains you of a lot of energy, because you've got no control over the situation. …
“We talked about it and probably more the next morning when we woke up. Hey, how are you feeling? This is what you've got to do, get in your own world, do your own thing, do whatever you need to do just to block everything out.”
Norman’s chances evaporated with a windswept 77, but he couldn’t be too disappointed. He had nearly pulled off what might have been the greatest -- and most improbable -- victory of all time with the woman he loved at his side and his son, Gregory, on the bag.
Both are back with him at Turnberry, and they had a chance to relive history as he played a practice round with Watson, who won the second of his five Opens here in 1977.
“He asked me questions, Dad, what was it like back then, where did you drive it?” Norman said. “And I'd say we'd hit it here and we'd hit it there. …
“But you do feel it, there's no question. It's good memories, bad memories -- always entrenched in there, for all the right reasons or wrong reasons. So when you can have a chance to extol on them a few times, why not?”
And why not make a few more memories this week?