Shark Bites Back at 95 Hartford


Wherever old golfers get together to rehash tournaments gone by and championships won-lost, there will never be a sadder statement than, It might have been.
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.