But every now and again, Norman regains his confidence, and with it his form and his swagger.
Thursday was one of those days.
With a leaderboard that any major championship would cherish, its Norman whose name is at the top.
The 46-year-old Australian shot a 5-under-par 65 to tie Jim Furyk for the lead after the first round of the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, OH.
Right now its as confident as Ive felt in two or three years on the golf course, Norman said.
Four Ryder Cuppers are tied for third place ' three from Europe and one from the U.S. Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Tiger Woods all opened in 4-under 66.
Woods, the two-time defending champion, is still recovering from a bout of food poisoning that allowed him only three practice holes prior to teeing it up on Thursday.
Im feeling a little bit better, Woods said. I was kind of worried about my stamina for today, but Ive been all right today.
Norman was more than all right on Thursday.
Winless since capturing the World Series of Golf at this venue in 1997, Norman made seven birdies and two bogeys en route to his lowest round of the season on the PGA Tour.
Norman birdied his first two holes. Following a dropped shot at the par-4 6th, he chipped in from 24 feet for birdie at the par-3 7th.
He then found something in his putting stroke while walking down the 10th fairway.I was questioning myself why I wasnt releasing the putter, he said, and I started thinking about how I used to putt and I lifted my shoulders a little more. Once I got my shoulders a little more elevated, all of a sudden the putter started to release.
It proved quite effective. Norman rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 12, a pair of 15-footers at Nos. 14 and 16, and a 30-footer on the 17th.
Though, he ended his round with a two-putt bogey at the last.
I still believe I can (win), said Norman, who has 18-career PGA Tour victories to his credit. I still hit the ball long enough and I still have a lot of mental aptitude, and so I still want to keep on going.
Norman started his season with a tie for fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational, but has since failed to notch a top-20 in nine tour events.
He is, however, healthy after undergoing hip and shoulder surgeries the past few years.
I feel great, he said. As long as I still feel like I can win, Im going to stay here and still play. Now, I may never win again, but if I still do believe I can win, thats fine.
Furyk - winner of the season opening Mercedes Championships - made three birdie putts over 15 feet, chipped in from roughly 20 feet at the 16th, and concluded his day with a 25-foot birdie at the 18th.
Im obviously very happy, said Furyk. Sixty-five is a great score on this course, under these conditions.
Tigers not worried about course conditions, but rather his physical condition.
Some Chinese food disagreed with Tigers tummy; that, combined with the intense Atlanta heat at last weeks PGA Championship led people in the gallery to say, He looks bigger on TV.
Woods ' who said he has lost nine pounds in the last eight days ' started slowly on Thursday, parring his first seven holes before sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at the 8th to make the turn in 1-under 34.
Following four more pars to start the back nine, Woods birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to end the day one off the lead.
Im pleased with the way I hit the ball, said Woods. I come in here with a lot of confidence, just because I hit the ball really well on Sunday (at the PGA Championship). Ive been working on a few things over the summer and its starting to come together at the PGA and then it really came together on Sunday.
While Tiger had a breakthrough Sunday, Montgomerie had an I-want-to-break-things Sunday. Montgomerie signed an incorrect scorecard in the final round of the PGA and was disqualified.Rather than fly from Atlanta to Akron, Monty decided to take the scenic route, driving the majority along I-77.
I was starring at 77 for a long time, said Montgomerie earlier in the week. I hope Im not staring at that number on Thursday.
That was certainly not the case, as the 38-year-old Scot recorded seven birdies and three bogeys.
A victory this week wouldnt make up for another majorless season, but: I suppose its all thats left, isnt it, quipped Montgomerie.
We start the year with a number of goals, and four of which have gone by the wayside. The fifth goal, I suppose you look forward now to the Ryder Cup and look forward to the experience, and then you look at the World Golf Championship events.
News, Notes and Numbers
*Experience allows for rest at Firestone. Neither Phil Mickelson, nor David Duval played a practice round before teeing it up Thursday. Norman played but 18 holes, while Woods played only three. All are past winners at Firestone Country Club, and all were under par in the first round. Mickelson shot 3-under 67 and Duval shot 69.
*Clarke made the only eagle in the first round, posting a three on the par-5 2nd hole.
*The last time Norman held at least a share of the lead after a round at an official PGA Tour event was in 1997, when he won the NEC World Series of Golf by four strokes.
*Furyk and Woods were the only players to post a bogey-free round on Thursday.
Full-field scores from the WGC-NEC Invitational