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Norman shakes off cold, not all the rust in opening 72
That's why it was no surprise on Thursday afternoon that Norman wasn't thrilled with his opening-round 2-over-par 72 in the 69th Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Making his first start on the Champions Tour since 2005, Norman's first round was more than respectable on a challenging day that featured a light drizzle and chilly temperatures throughout most of the morning, although he could have done without wayward drives on the final two holes that led to a pair of closing bogeys.
"Even par would have been much better," said the 53-year-old Norman, who this week is making just his fifth start on either the PGA TOUR or Champions Tour in over two years. "I felt pretty good today. I felt pretty good coming here this week. It's a good golf course, I like the golf course, I drive the ball well, except for the last two holes, even the last hole I thought I hit a good drive and I thought I was out in the fairway, but unfortunately was not."
Aside from the difficult 7,001-yard Donald Ross design, the early risers like Norman had to deal with brutal conditions -- the kind you expect on the backend of winter, not the backend of spring.
"When you walk to the first tee and it's 41 degrees and the rain's coming down, you really have to dig deep and get your concentration going, because I don't care whether you've played a lot or haven't played at all, when you get to the first tee and if you don't concentrate and get off to a bad start, you're in for a long day," he said.
For Norman, a two-time winner of the British Open, it was a great start. He ripped his first drive down the center of the fairway, which set the tone for most of the day.
His only blunder on the front nine was a bogey at the 214-yard, par-3 third hole, where he missed the green and then two-putted from 5 feet. Norman got the stroke back with a birdie on the par-4 eighth hole after sticking a 7-iron to 15 feet and making the putt.
Aside from the bogeys on 17 and 18 on the inward nine, Norman also bogeyed the 598-yard, par-5 13th hole after his third shot found the greenside bunker and he missed a 3-foot putt. His lone birdie on the back was on a 10-foot putt on No. 16 that was set up by a brilliant wedge shot.
"Every day it will be a little bit better," Norman said. "I know that. And hopefully I'll be around for the weekend. So I'm just going to work on my game tomorrow and go back and putt a little bit. I think the only thing that really let me down today was making a good couple of four or five footers when I needed to make them."
Despite the terrible early weather, Norman and playing partners Fuzzy Zoeller and Jeff Sluman had quite the crowd following them along. That's what happens when three major champions are paired together and one of them -- Sluman -- is a Rochester native. Even still, Norman was impressed.
"They were a great, supportive gallery," Norman said. "For the people to show up like they did today in the weather conditions, you've got to applaud them. We had to be here, they didn't have to be here. So I hope they saw enough good golf. Not spectacular, but under the circumstances it was pretty good golf, to tell you the truth."
Especially for a guy who doesn't play often.