Shark Returns for Another Bite

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SANDWICH, England -- A man wins a major and he becomes one with the course. Jim Furyk and Olympia Fields. Davis Love III and Winged Foot. Payne Stewart and Pinehurst.
 
He holds that venue in utmost esteem. (Think Paul Lawrie shares the majority opinion of Carnoustie?)
 
The two are happily bound forever in historical marriage. David Duval and Royal Lytham. Rich Beem and Hazeltine. Retief Goosen and Southern Hills.
 
Then theres Greg Norman and Royal St. Georges.
 
Norman won at RSG in 1993. It was his second Open Championship title, having first won at Turnberry in 1986.
 
As the games oldest event makes its 10-year reunion to Sandwich, England, one would think Norman would be sitting on the deck of a yacht big enough to fit two of every animal, basting in the sunshine, melting in the remembrance of his final major victory.
 
The occasion? Perhaps. The setting? Not so much.
 
The trophy is really special to me because I believe that is the real, true Open Championship of the world, Norman said.
 
The venue, believe it or not, Ive never been a real big fan of Royal St. Georges. Royal St. Georges is a very quirky golf course. Its very hard to get comfortable on.'
 
Theres a lot of off-camera holes ' holes that go left and the fairway will kick right; a lot of blind shots. So you have to have the courage of A) your yardage, B) your lines and execution of your shot, because youre just hitting over the gallerys head and over sand dunes, hoping youre going to end up on the fairway.
 
Weathered and accomplished, the 48-year-old Australian has no time for faux romance.
 
Norman captured his second Claret Jug by posting a final-round 64. His 267 total ' 13-under at the time ' is the lowest winning number in the 131 years of the championship.
 
Given the final tally, it would seem that the Great White Shark whitewashed the field that week, but not so. Those numbers, those records, that play was necessary to prevail by a scant two strokes.
 
The one thing that stands out the most for me that week is the fact that it was the first golf tournament that Id ever played in where, pretty much, all the best players in the world, at that time, were playing well that week. It was like, if you make a par you were going to lose ground, Norman recalled.
 
What transpired a decade ago at Royal St. George's is something of which many fresh-faced golf fans are not familiar.
 
Were accustomed to watching Tiger take a lead into the final round and still hold off the field with nothing more than a fairways-and-greens 70. Maybe we get a Cinderella story. Or maybe we get to see a couple of players of equal ilk face off down the stretch on Sunday.
 
But can you recall the last time the top players in the world not only went head-to-head with one another, and actually didnt induce channel clicking?
 
Think. Think hard. Think back to 1993 at Royal St. Georges, where the principal characters were Norman, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer.
 
By the end of the 93 season, Faldo was ranked first in the world, followed by Norman, and then by Langer.
 
Others like Nick Price, Corey Pavin, Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia ' all of who had won or would win a major championship ' were also in the mix.
 
Thanks to mid-week rains, the course was soft and receptive, ideal for scoring. Through 54 holes, Pavin and Faldo, at 8-under, led Langer and Norman by a stroke.
 
We got a lot of rain on Wednesday night, Norman said. The course was very giving to us. You could play fairly aggressive golf on it.
 
It didnt take long on Sunday for the Shark to take a bite out of Sandwich. He birdied two of his first three holes to overtake the lead ' which he would never fully relinquish.
 
He stuck his approach shot to a foot at the ninth to card a front-side 31, yet still found himself only 2 up, as Langer and Faldo were keeping a slightly slower pace.
 
Norman was still in command through 13 holes. He stood at 12-under par, with the German and the Brit at 10-under.
 
Playing alongside the leader, Langer made a fatal mistake at the par-5 14th. Though he had used an iron off the tee in each of the first three rounds, he opted for the 1-wood this time. Teeing off in front of Norman, Langer pushed his drive out of bounds right.
 
Norman, not the conservative type, also used the big stick, and split the fairway. He made birdie; Langer made double bogey.
 
The 1985 and 93 Masters champion - Langer - put forth a furious rally coming home, but wasnt able to push through that one thick nail driven into his coffin.
 
Despite the disposal of Langer, Norman still had a few more foes ' Faldo and himself.
 
Three back at the time, Faldo, the defending champion, birdied 14 to get within two. It appeared as if he might move even closer, as Norman had 10 feet for par at 15. But Norman made the putt, and then hit a 5-iron at the 163-yard, par-3 16th to eight feet. The ensuing birdie bumped him to 14-under, again three clear of Faldo.
 
Of course, with Norman its never that easy. He missed an 18-inch par putt at 17 and then two-putted for par at the last. He entered the clubhouse at 13-under, and then waited ' as did the trophy engraver ' to be awarded his fate.
 
When Faldo narrowly missed a birdie putt at 17, he needed to eagle the par-4 finishing hole to force a playoff.
 
An unlikely scenario, unless it involves one Gregory John Norman. The man who lost the 1986 PGA Championship when Bob Tway holed a bunker shot. The man who lost the 1987 Masters to a 140-foot Larry Mize-authored chip-in.
 
The man who lost the 1990 Bay Hill Invitational when Robert Gamez holed a 176-yard 7-iron from the fairway for an eagle-2 on the 72nd hole.
 
Said a television commentator, Strange things have happened to Norman, but surely not this time?
 
No, not this time. Faldo drove his tee shot into the left rough and was forced to pitch out.
 
Faldo finished with a par for a round of 67, as did Langer, making Normans 64 just a stroke below victorys requirement.
 
Ten years later, Norman is still without a U.S. Open trophy, a green jacket or the Wannamaker. But he has his two Claret Jugs, and some very comforting memories in the fact the he played his best, and beat the best the world had to offer that week in South East England.
 
You dont get an opportunity to go up against six or eight of the best players in the world the same week very often, Norman said. And to come out on top makes it all-the-more special.
 
Norman will return as a defending champion of sorts this week. One who hasnt won a PGA Tour event since 1997, and has played in only one tournament since pulling out of the Players Championship with a stress fracture in his back.
 
Still, he once was great ' as displayed at Royal St. Georges a decade ago ' and still believes himself just a bit of good health ' hes taken two cortisone shots in his back in order to make the trip ' and a couple of good breaks ' like the ones that always seem to go against him ' away from being so again.
 
If my back holds up, I believe I can do it, Norman said of his chances of winning again at RSG. When Im fit and healthyI feel like I can do anything with a golf ball.