Shark Bites Back at 95 Hartford
And when old championships are being rehashed, no golfer in history comes to mind quicker than Greg Norman. Norman has won 18 PGA Tour events plus two British Opens, certainly a laudable figure. But more prominent is his 31 seconds. He has managed to lose by means that would send any other golfer screaming to the psychiatrists couch.
He finished second four times in 1986, four times in 1993, and three times in 1994. He lost a playoff for the British Open (to Mark Calcavecchia) in 89, which would have 32 runner-ups. He also lost a U.S. Open playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1984, the PGA to Paul Azinger in 93 and the Masters in a playoff with Larry Mize in 1987.
He had to be exceptional, of course, to be so close so often, yet come up empty. One of the times he was not a runner-up was the 1995 Canon Greater Hartford. He won in a final round in which he looked eyeball to eyeball with Zoeller, and Zoeller blinked first. And it was the week after the U.S. Open, just like it is in 2002. Norman, incidentally, had once again finished second at Shinnecock to Corey Pavin.
In 1995, though, he was the top of his game. The brilliance at Hartford proved it. He had slipped at the last moment at the Open to allow Pavin to squeeze through to the victory, yet didnt let a bad memory intimidate him the following week. Norman was once again in a real struggle for most of the day, just like the week before, but in the end he just turned on the afterburners and blew the pursuers away.
I could have easily come into this week and not performed as well, he said afterwards. As it turned out, I made myself concentrate and work hard.
I wanted to pull myself up because I knew my game was good. Coming back after a major and doing this, especially after being in contention in a major, is important. I think it was easier because I knew I was playing so good. It was harder because of what happened last week.
A 64-65 start on Thursday and Friday had put Norman in control of the tournament. The rains came on Sunday, putting the breaks on scoring for the entire field. Consequently, by the time the nine-hole turn came in the final round, Norman was ahead by three shots.
Just like that ' snap! ' though, Norman lost his lead. It happened on No. 10, when a snap-hook drive, a tree limb which caught his approach, and a long pitch combined to send him spiraling down with a double bogey. And when Fuzzy Zoeller birdied the 11th, the tournament was tied.
And there was more ' another birdie by Zoeller at the par-5 13th, at the same time Norman was missing a three-footer for a birdie of his own, gave Zoeller the lead. Suddenly, it was put-up or shut-up. Norman had to look inward and ask himself for a little something extra. Would he indeed be the Great White Shark? Or would he be the Chicken of the Sea?
He would find out on the 15th tee. Zoeller had already hit, laying up on the 296-yard shortie. Norman had to answer a big question as he prepared to drive the ball.
I stood on the tee and asked myself, Do I want to win the golf tournament? said Norman. And I said, Yeah, I do. I thought, Well, lets go ahead and win it.
He yanked out the driver and went for the par-4 green with one big bash of the club. The drive hit the green but bounded down the side. Zoeller chunked a short pitch, finally reached the green in three, and two-putted for a bogey. And something good was about to happen to Norman.
He lofted the short pitch toward the pin, then watched with everyone else as it circled the cup and fell in for eagle. He had begun the hole a shot behind, but as he left the green, he was two shots ahead.
Norman had a couple of slips the final four holes, but no one could nab him. He still led by two shots as he came to 18, and won for the 15th time when the day was over.
To come out and do it, that makes me feel very good, said Norman. He had experienced plenty of days when someone had done it to him. This was one when he did to someone else.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.
Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.
Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.
Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA.
New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.
Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.
Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.
Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.
Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.
Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”