Norman awaits historic day at Open
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2008 British Open | Round Three | 20 Jul 2008
The golfing world felt they had the greatest of all golfing stories when Tiger Woods overcame the odds to win his 14th major championship just over a month ago at Torrey Pines. There is little doubt however that what is transpiring at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale this weekend could well be the story to beat them all.
Greg Norman leads into the final round of the 137th Open Championship looking to become the oldest player to win a major championship. Julius Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Country Club in San Antonio to become the oldest player to win at the highest level and now Norman faces the possibility, at the age of 53 years and five months, of winning his third major championship and breaking that record.
Norman’s round of 72 in the most demanding of conditions has given him a two shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington and second round leader, K.J. Choi. On a day where the winds off the Irish Sea at times threatened the abandonment of play, Norman struggled through the opening few holes but so did everyone else as the winds, which reached up to 50mph, blew away some chances and offered opportunity for others.
Choi made the best start of those amongst the leading group with five consecutive pars to and led by three through five holes. The 6th hole is a monster and it would again prove so today with Choi dropping two shots there. Two holes later four players would share the lead at 2 over, namely Choi, Norman, Harrington and Jim Furyk the latter of whom birdied the 8th and 9th to turn in even par and gain a slice of the four way tie at the top.
A logjam at the 10th tee necessitated by the excessive winds moving balls on that particular green, resulted in a lengthy wait for several groups and Norman, Choi and Furyk would all fall victim to the delay and the demands of that hole. All three double bogeyed although they still led as Harrington, who was playing two holes ahead, was having his problems at the 11th and 12th holes and Furyk’s challenge was unravelling with a series of dropped shots from the 10th.
Over the closing stages it would be Norman who would finish the best with birdies at the 14th and 17th and a delightful par save from right of the green at the last with a chip across the bunker that appeared to be in just three of feet from the hole.
Choi and Harrington have given themselves a great chance of victory by staying in touch of Norman’s two shot lead while England’s Simon Wakefield recorded the equal best round of the day (70) to be at 5 over and three behind the lead.
For Harrington, as was the case at the US Open, this may well turn out to be a case of beware the wounded golfer. The wrist he damaged when winning last week at the Irish PGA seems to be of little concern and he stands a great chance of joining a select list of modern day golfers and only the second since Tom Watson did so at this venue in 1983 to win consecutive Open Championships. The other of course was Tiger Woods in 2005 and 2006.
2003 Champion, Ben Curtis was out nearly four hours ahead of the leaders in round three and when he made the turn in three under 31 he was looming as a potential contender for the 54 hole lead. At that point the leaders had not even headed to the practice fairway and with so much blood being let on the golf course, if he could finish off his round well the chances of him repeating his Royal St George’s victory were increasing by the minute. He began to struggle early in the back nine but his even par round of 70 moved him from 38th to a share of 5th and just five from the lead.
Curtis shares 5th place at 7 over with Open debutante Anthony Kim, European Open winner Ross Fisher and Sweden’s Alexander Noren and, given the vagaries of this golf course and the Lancashire weather, all probably feel they still have a chance. In fact there are players at 8 and 9 over who likely feel that with something very special tomorrow they could still win.
It is difficult to predict just what might happen on day four, after all this has been an event already full of surprises, but Norman’s experience in this situation will be a huge factor especially given the relaxed manner he is displaying and his overall quality of play. Whether he pinches himself tonight and realises just what he might achieve tomorrow remains to be seen but importantly there is not the same expectation on Norman winning that there was in his heyday.
If he is unable to do so, his performance this week will be recognised for the brilliance it has offered rather than any inability to get the job done as he has often been accused of doing. In that regard he has little to lose. He has the admiration of all, irrespective of the outcome.