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Greg Norman is excited about playing this week, but indicated that he might focus on more off-course activities next year.
Greg Norman is excited about playing this week, but indicated that he might focus on more off-course activities next year. (Martin/Getty Images)

Fan favorite Norman unsure how to attack Canterbury

Greg Norman will draw the week's largest galleries, and he's pleased that his game is in good shape. But he admits that Canterbury's rolling fairways and quick greens have him perplexed.

By Craig Dolch, PGA.com Contributor

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- A sixth-place finish has never been something for Greg Norman to get excited about.

But before Norman made his unexpected run at last summer's British Open, where he led going into the back nine and eventually finished third, Norman also contended in last year's Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill. A birdie at the 16th hole moved him within two shots of Jay Haas' lead, before he finished with a double bogey and a bogey to settle for a sixth-place tie.

Still, it was Norman's first top-10 finish in almost three years. Without that strong performance, who knows what he would have done in the British Open, an event he considered skipping until the week before it was held at Royal Birkdale?

"Any time you're in contention, you get excited about playing," Norman said Wednesday. “When you get on that bike and start riding it and feeling the energy of not only your play and how good it feels and the energy of everything going on around you, that's what we play for. When you get it, it feels great. Even at this late stage in your life.”

Now 54, the Great White Shark will make another run at a major Thursday, when he tees it up in the 70th Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Golf Club. He may not be the favorite, but he will no doubt have the largest gallery -- a gallery that will include his wife, former tennis icon Chris Evert.

This will mark Norman's fifth tournament in the last two months, including a missed cut at the Masters. That's a hectic schedule for someone who played only five Champions Tour events during his first four years of eligibility.

Part of the reason for his increase play is the economy has slowed some of his businesses such as course design; part of it is his improved play of last year, which also included a fourth at the U.S. Senior Open and a fifth at the Senior British Open.

Norman won't say he's the player to beat, but he's not looking for another sixth-place finish, either.

"I would like to say it's fairly solid," said Norman, whose son Gregory will caddie for him. "It's not great. But it's solid. I haven't really spent a lot of time as much time leading up to this tournament as I would like practicing. But I'm not overly concerned, I'm not like sitting here, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm not playing very well.' I'm playing fairly solid golf."

This may be the last year golf fans will see Norman much on the golf course. He said his business already has picked up signs things will improve in 2010. Plus, he's spent the last decade trying to find an exit strategy from the days when he was the No. 1 player in the world and the game's most visible player.

"It's not that I don't want to play golf," Norman said. "It's just that I enjoy being at home more often. I traveled 40 weeks a year for 30 years of my life. I'm trying to cut that back down to about 20 weeks a year for the rest of my life."

Norman has spent the last two days trying to figure out one of the few top courses in the United States he's never played. After two practice rounds, he admits he's still not sure how to attack Canterbury's rolling fairways and quick greens.

He used the word "interesting" several times during Wednesday's press conference when asked to explain Canterbury. Interesting good or interesting bad? Norman shrugged his shoulders.

"I still haven't decided how I'm going to play it, to tell you the truth," Norman said. "I think there are some opportunities where you can actually take an aggressive approach and hit driver off some of these left-to-right holes and cut it back into the hill.

"But I would say it's a very conservative type of golf course. You've got to know where to put the ball on the greens, (because they are) extremely fast from back to front and very slow from front to back.  So knowing your yardages and putting it in the right position on the green is going to be crucial."

One thing is certain: When Norman plays, it's usually very interesting.
 

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