Back When Norman Was Norman


Remember back as recently as 1995, when Greg Norman was the Tiger Woods of the PGA Tour - even before there was a Tiger Woods?
Remember Akron, Ohio, Firestone Golf Club and the NEC World Series of Golf? Norman was the best player in the game at the time, before injuries tore up his body and his golf game. And at the NEC, Norman laid it all out there for the world to see ' his game, his moxie, his chutzpah ' and for a change, pure old-fashioned luck. They all added up to something fairly typical for Norman in the mid-90s ' another victory.
It was only the seventh hole in the first round when Norman erupted in a brouhaha that threatened monumental chaos. He was paired with Mark McCumber and Norman thought he saw McCumber tap down a spike mark illegally. McCumber to this day swears that he didnt. Norman was so unnerved that he refused to sign McCumbers scorecard at the end of the round, and only agreed to stay in the tournament through the persuasive efforts of his wife, Laura, and caddy Tony Navarro.
Jim Gallagher, Jr., led the first two days but took a 75 in the third. Vijay Singh led after three rounds but suffered a 74 Sunday. On Sunday it looked like the winner would be Billy Mayfair, who shot a 31 on the front side and held a big three-shot lead on the back. But three consecutive bogeys, at 15, 16 and 17 brought him back to the field.
Nick Price also shot a 32 on the front and actually took the lead momentarily after Mayfairs bogey on 17. Both Mayfair and Price had opportunities to win it on 18 with birdies, but Mayfairs putt from eight feet barely missed on the right side, and Prices 18-footer for par missed ' also on the right ' and he took a bogey.
Norman, meanwhile, had finished in front with a 67, posting a score of 278. First Mayfair, then Price finished on the same score, and it was off to the 18th for the first hole of the playoff.
It didnt look good for Norman after his drive. It went left into the rough, careening off a tree. The ball dropped straight down, landing in a playable lie, though his path to the pin was not good.
Norman hacked his ball up in the vicinity of the green, dying in the greenside rough 66 feet from the pin. Price and Mayfair both placed the ball perfectly off the tee, but Mayfairs approach was in the fringe. Price had by far the most advantageous approach, the ball rolling up to within 22 feet of the pin.
Norman chose a 7-iron for his pitch to the pin. He hit a low shot into the green, the ball skipping and rolling a considerable distance, rolling, rolling toward the cup. Norman watched in stunned surprise ' as did Mayfair and Price ' when the ball limped into the cup on its final revolution.
Mayfairs chip didnt scare the hole and Prices putt was short. And just like that, Norman was the champ.
It was a wonderful feeling, Norman said. Sometimes you have to dig down deep, and thats what I did on the 73rd hole.
Norman has lost several times to dramatic, last hole chips ' Bob Tway, Larry Mize, David Frost, Robert Gamez holed from the fairway. But Norman has holed out for victories, too ' witness Doral in 1990.
The game of golf evens itself out, Norman said. Sometimes you hit it off a tree and it lands in the water. Sometimes it land in the fairway. Those shots have happened against me, as Ive heard about so many times. Now the golfing gods evened things out.