Norman turns back the clock in Rd 1

By Associated PressJuly 17, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- A blissful newlywed, Greg Norman believes hes finally got the proper perspective on life.
 
His golf game looks pretty good, too.
 
Cheered on by his wife of a month, former tennis star Chris Evert, the 53-year-old Norman plugged away for an even-par 70 in the opening round of the British Open, leaving him just one stroke off the lead Thursday.
 
Greg Norman
Greg Norman hits a shot on the 2nd hole at Royal Birkdale. (Getty Images)
Go ahead. Pinch yourself.
 
The Shark is again contending at a major championship, even though most other weeks hes likely to spend more time on the tennis court than he does on the golf course.
 
Ive got to keep my expectations realistically low, to be honest with you. I havent played a lot of golf, said Norman, who had the good fortune of teeing off in the afternoon, after the rain had stopped and the wind tapered off a bit. Its just like riding a bike. But even riding a bike sometimes after a long time, youre a little wobbly.
 
Norman sure looked steady in the opening round, walking off the course with one of just six rounds at par or better. Of course, hes not about to start clearing out space in the suitcase for the claret jug, knowing that while plenty of tournaments are lost on Thursday, none has ever been won the first day.
 
Five years ago at Royal St. Georges, Norman opened with a 2-under 69 but soared to a 79 the following day, ruining any hopes of winning a third Open title.
 
If I give myself a chance at the end of the tournament, either nine holes or six holes or the last 18 holes, Ill feel pretty good about my chances, Norman said. But you dont sit here on Thursday at 6:30 or 7 at night and think, OK, Sunday is around the corner and Im there. Its not the case.
 
With his bride watching from the back of the room, Norman talked about getting his priorities in order, which means golf comes second, even if hes still trying to finish first those rare times he swings a club.
 
The other side of my life is absolutely fantastic, Norman said. I enjoy playing golf and I enjoy spending time at home with Chrissy and with my kids. I enjoy my business and what Im doing. Ive probably got the most beautiful balance Ive ever had.
 
Before, he added, all it was was golf, golf, golf. Everything else took second stage. Now, really, golf is second and everything else is first as far as Im concerned. Its a great feeling.
 
Norman has largely given up competitive golf, and he has no intention of adding to his schedule no matter how well he plays at Royal Birkdale.
 
My mind still wants to play, but my body doesnt want to practice, said Norman, whos endured numerous surgeries on his hips, knees and shoulders. Believe me, I still enjoy playing. But I dont enjoy standing out there on the driving range for four, five, six hours a day.
 
Norman has fond memories of the British Open, the only major he won despite numerous close calls in each of the others. While U.S. fans may remember him throwing away a commanding lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters, his boosters on this side of the Atlantic can point to the title he won at Turnberry in 1986, or his follow-up win at Royal St. Georges in 93.
 
The dashing Aussie certainly should have more major titles on his resume, but no one can ever take away those two.
 
The atmosphere here, the excitement, it changes you, Norman said. Like coming down 18 after 5 1/2 hours of golf, the way people receive you, you dont get that anywhere else in the world. Its a phenomenal experience. It gives you a little more juice.
 
Hes also gotten his private life sorted out, including a $103 million divorce settlement with his ex-wife. Now, hes ready to start building a future with Evert.
 
It just revitalized my life, Norman said. When youre more relaxed and youre happier, then everything else kind of comes a little bit easier, too. Even when I go out there and practice, I practice with a little bit more intensity over a short period of time because, OK, Im looking forward to going home. I would say its a rub-off effect on the golf, no question, but my life in general is much more in balance than it has ever been.
 
Evert is a late-blooming golf fan, but she had a couple of good tips for her husband before he headed to the course. The weather was awful in the morning, with soaking rain and howling winds, but Norman didnt tee off until the afternoon.
 
Chrissy said, It looks like its going to be a day of a lot of patience, and thats what it was, Norman said. She also said the weather was going to get better, so she really caught the ball on that one, too. We did get the better side of the draw, no doubt about it.
 
Not that Norman was apologizing for his good fortune.
 
When you watch it in the morning, you feel sorry for the guys, he said. But theres times when you say, Well, Ive been there before. Ive been on that side of the draw, too. Youve got to take it. It all balances out, and you have to take advantage of it.
 
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