Heartache happiness in Normans Masters return
That suffering was both painful and poignant at the Masters, the one major, above all, he seemed so well-suited to win.
I reflect on the fact I havent won it, he said. I talk to Chrissie about it a lot. This golf course really suits my game and I went there every year feeling great about it.
Hale Irwin, who ran down a charging Shark to win the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, added, With Greg as long as he was, as well as he played, youd have to bet hed win a Masters.
He should have won all of them, Raymond Floyd stated flatly.
It came out like sand just dropping through my hand, Norman said. Its hard to explain. I dont know how to grasp it sometimes. You just put it down to the golf and I made some mistakes and others made some great shots.
Lee Trevino offered another explanation.
The only thing that bothered me about Norman, he told me, is that I thought he had gears and I thought he an A game, B game, C game and when you get to a major and your A game is not working, you got to go to your C game. The hell with the full 8-iron, lets take a 6 and punch it. Or lets take a 7 instead of an 8 or whatever. He always had a foot on the pedal and if its not working thats what happened, it didnt work for him.
I told Norman what Trevino said.
Would I go back and change my game, the way I used to play now that I know how I played? Yes I would have, he said in a rather stunning admission. But in that moment my psyche never allowed me to do that. You know, Im an Aussie, a go get em Aussie. Whatever it is, we gotta get you.
And yet in the next breath, Norman reveals that lack of conviction, in his own game, not lack of restraint hurt him, in 1986 with a chance to tie or even beat Jack on the final hole.
There you go, I wasnt aggressive, he said. I went conservative. I hit a 4-iron when my first thought was 'hit a high 5-iron.' I had 183 yards, I think, uphill. Just smash a 5-iron and I said 'no just back off and try to hit a 4-iron in there.' '
Norman blew it wider than wide right. The legend of Jack in 86 was cemented.
I mean, he made these great birdies coming down the stretch, recalls Jack. And then he hit the worst iron that Im sure hes ever hit in his life on 18. Greg should have won more. Some of it was because of him. Some of it was because of other people.
Like Larry Mize who in 1987 at the Masters became the first in a long line of Greg Norman tormenters.
In 1996, Norman beat himself. Holding a six-shot lead heading to the final round, he shot 78 ' as sad a Sunday as Augustas ever seen. It sparked an outpouring of sympathy and respect.
Suddenly hundreds of thousands of e-mails and letters poured in from people saying you changed my approach about what Im going to teach my kid about winning, about losing, the way you handled yourself, I got a huge lift out of that, he said.
To me, I won a tournament of life in a lot of ways and my public perception from that Monday onwards was different than that Sunday before. Augusta did some unique and weird things for me over my life and it probably will continue to do so.
In 1999 Norman again threatened to push aside all those ignominious moments, but fell just short of Jose Maria Olazabal.
Then last summer at the British Open, Norman created the rarest of later in life chances, the chance to dynamite a legacy without doing something unsavory as Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Marion Jones did. Birkdale would be proper payback for all the cruel lashings he endured.
And though he didnt win, Norman did burnish his reputation as a baby boomer icon, a symbol for a generation and its quest for youth.
Everywhere I go, he said with obvious excitement, people tell me that I did it for the 50-plus year-olds. They tell me I rejuvenated them and proved theres no mountain too high to climb. And given the financial climate were in right now, people are looking for a happy hook to hang their hat on. Baby boomers are getting killed and their retirement funds are disappearing, so when you hear that Ive given them happiness I feel like I have to go back and work hard and I have to go fight for it.
Just how did he do it? First, Normans no ordinary 54-year-old ' he's in better shape than men half his age. Second, he was, and is, in love.
At Birkdale, he said, I just got off a wedding and a honeymoon and I was very relaxed.
We really had no expectations, Chris Evert told me last month. I think it was a testament to just how talented he really is.
And so at a time when most men are happy to be playing a friendly game of tennis ' and based on what I saw when he played with Chris at her academy in Florida, Greg can serve and volley very well ' hes attempting to again defy the odds. Could he win the Masters?
If I manage myself well and right and play like I did at the British Open, why not?
Raymond Floyd disagrees. Even if he plays like he did the first three days at the British Open, he wont win because the guys are just too good now. Someone will be better.
I also want to keep my expectations under control, Norman added. I really would love to just go through the whole four days and quietly get better each day.
Norman will not have the benefit of coming in under the radar as he did at the British Open. And hes insistent that hes returning to the Masters not for any payback because he knows it just doesnt work that way.
That hes back at all, trying again at the scene of so much heartbreak, is reward enough.
I reflect over Augusta and I still classify it as my favorite golf tournament of all time, he said.
Whether its Friday or Sunday, Norman will enjoy the walk up 18 to the applause of the patrons here. And while it may not carry the weight those moments did for Palmer and Nicklaus, the air figures to be thick with emotion.
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Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.
At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.
Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.
Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.
Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.
Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.
Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.
''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.
''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''
Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.
''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.
''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''
Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.
Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.
''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''
Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.
Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.
''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''
The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.
''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''
The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.
''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'
Joel Dahmen had a 64.
''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.
''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.
''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''
He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.
''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.
Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.
''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.
Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.
Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.
Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.
Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence
NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.
Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.
Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.
“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”
Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.
With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.
“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.
Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.
Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season.
“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.
Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.
Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead
NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.
Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.
Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.
Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.
Nobody has ever swept all those awards.
There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.
“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”
Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.
The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.