Norman leads in familiar position

By Associated PressJuly 19, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- Gusts that approached 50 mph required Greg Norman to manufacture shots from his 53-year-old memory Saturday in the British Open, which he called among the toughest tests he has ever faced in golf.
 
It only got harder after he finished another chapter in this incredible script at Royal Birkdale.
 
Norman played the perfect pitch shot over a pot bunker to within a foot of the cup for par, giving him a 2-over 72 and a two-shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington and K.J. Choi.
 
With so much baggage behind him in the majors, Norman did all he could late Saturday not to look too far ahead. He is 18 holes from becoming golfs oldest major champion, but wouldnt bite when asked what it would feel like to win.
 
Ask me that question tomorrow night if that happens, OK? he said.
 
Norman is 1-6 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead in the majors, his only victory coming at Turnberry in 1986. His career is defined as much by the majors he lost as the two British Open titles he won. How would he reply to those who said he couldnt possible win?
 
I didnt hear any of that, Norman said.
 
All he would acknowledge was that he was at 2-over 212, in the lead at a major with an opportunity no one saw coming.
 
Ive got to go out there and play my game, Norman said. Ill answer a lot of different questions tomorrow night if I have to.
 
The facts in what seems like fiction are that Norman played the final eight holes without a bogey and emerged from a four-way logjam at the turn to leave himself one round away from a feat that might top Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open on one leg.
 
The rest of the details are hard to believe.
 
This is no longer the thrill-seeking Great White Shark who used to routinely beat up on the best players in every major until it was time to award the trophy. This is a part-time golfer who had not played in a major for three years. The only reason he entered this British Open was to practice for a couple of senior majors in the coming weeks.
 
It is different, no question, Norman said. The players are probably saying, My God, whats he doing up there?
 
He will be in the last group Sunday with Harrington, who doesnt see Norman as anything but a two-time British Open champion.
 
When hes interested, Greg Norman can really play, said Harrington, who overcame his wind-blown mistakes with four birdies for a 72. Hes well capable of putting it together, as hes shown in the first three rounds, and I dont think anybody should expect anything but good play from him tomorrow.
 
Norman and Harrington were the only two players among the final 11 groups to break 75.
 
No one broke par. Nine players failed to break 80, including David Duval, who was three shots behind until a triple bogey on the opening hole. His 83 matched his worst score in a British Open.
 
Former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk was tied for the lead until he took two double bogeys and shot 43 on the back nine on his way to a 77. Choi lost the lead for good with a three-putt bogey on the 15th and wound up with a 75.
 
The wind raged before dawn and was relentless, measuring 30 mph when the first player teed off at breakfast and holding steady at close to 40 mph during the heart of the third round'making it hard to appreciate what Norman was doing.
 
Norman is believed to be the oldest player to lead after 54 holes in a major. Julius Boros was 53 years and 3 months when he was tied for the lead in the 1973 U.S. Open, won by Johnny Miller at Oakmont. Boros is the oldest major champion, 48 when he captured the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio.
 
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but Jack Nicklaus was in town on Friday. He was 46 and seemingly out to pasture when he shot 30 on the back nine at Augusta National in 1986 to win the Masters for a sixth time. Norman was a runner-up that year, naturally.
 
Nicklaus saw a few similarities with Normans bid at the British Open.
 
Hell remember how to play when and if he gets in a position to win a golf tournament, Nicklaus said.
 
Thats just what Norman was doing on Saturday. After two bogeys through three holes, leaving him three shots behind, he was 120 yards away from the green at No. 5 when he asked for a 5-iron before asking for the yardage.
 
The yardage was mentioned to me, but I didnt even pay attention, Norman said. I already saw the shot. I knew that was the shot I had to play to get the ball close to the hole. And I did that probably three or four, maybe five times today.
 
He also showed some flair, each hole giving him confidence, peeling away time.
 
Norman hit driver over the corner of some mounding on the eighth hole, leaving him a short pitch to the green where he made a 10-foot birdie putt to get back in the game. Then came another 350-yard drive with the wind at his back, over the grassy humps, bending back toward the fairway and leaving a 6-iron into the par-5 17th for a birdie that stretched his lead.
 
Obviously, I played well enough to put myself in this position, Norman said. That comes from a good, safe, happy mind in a lot of ways. Im very content in my mind, but at the same time, I have the lead now.
 
With a similar weather forecast for Sunday, anything can happen.
 
Davis Love III made the cut on the number at 9-over par, then made 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey in his round of 70 and moved up 54 spots into a tie for 15th. Ben Curtis, who won the Open five years ago, holed out for eagle with a 9-iron and hung on for a 70 to move up 33 spots into a tie for fifth at 7-over 217.
 
Asked what it would mean to win, Norman deferred'for now.
 
But he is back in the lead, and back in the game.
 
Norman has said since the day he arrived at Royal Birkdale that this links course is so fair that nobody is a favorite and anybody had a chance to win. That it includes a 53-year-old on his honeymoon is testament to that.
 
Perhaps the best feeling he had Saturday wasnt a 5-iron from 120 yards or any other shot he created from feel. It was the nerves and chills he felt walking to the first tee, a sign that he cared.
 
It was an indicator for me that I was as nervous as I felt, Norman said. I hadnt felt that way probably for 10 years, maybe even longer. I was excited about being there. I wanted to be there. And I hope I walk to the first tee feeling the same way tomorrow.
 
Im pretty sure Im going to be, he said, because its a little different situation.
 
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


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    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


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    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


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    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”