GFC Search

 

Story 5 Another Thrilling Chapter

RSS

Top 10 StoriesOn the eve of the 137th Open Championship a group of reporters had gathered at a Southport, England, watering hole when the proceedings were interrupted by a familiar figure meandering down Lord Street.
 
Linn The Growler Strickler is a caddie-yard legend having looped for the high-profile likes of Curtis Strange, Fred Couples and Nick Price. He had emerged from semi-retirement to carry Greg Normans bag at Royal Birkdale.
 
Greg Norman
Greg Norman acknowledges the crowd during the Open Championship. (Getty Images)
As omens go, the random encounter didnt send any of the scribes scrambling to Ladbrokes to play a hunch. But it should have.
 
Six windswept days later Norman had nearly beaten the elements, the toughest course and the deepest field on Tour in 2008 and the games hottest player not on the DL. Instead, the Sharks parting gift was a 1-up victory over the relentless efforts of time and a cosmic make-good in the form of a 2009 Masters invitation.
 
At 53, Norman came within an untimely poor Sunday start of the Claret Jug, finishing six strokes behind champion Padraig Harrington after starting his final round bogey-bogey-bogey.
 
I can walk away from here being disappointed, but I can walk away from here with my head held high because I hung in there, Norman reasoned as Harrington collected the games oldest title for the second time in 12 months. It wasnt meant to be and youve got to take that with a grain of salt.
 
But this was a slight of different sort, a respectful nod from the golf gods to a man who has suffered more than his share of slings and arrows from the heavens.
 
Norman had spent the days before arriving at Royal Birkdale working on his game with longtime swing coach David Leadbetter, but there was little in the part-time players prep work that made him think his 26th British Open would be his most memorable.
 
More important than Normans resurgent swing, however, was his relaxed deamenor. Less than three weeks before Norman teed off at Royal Birkdale hed married tennis great Chris Evert in a sunset ceremony in the Bahamas.
 
I came in here with a good attitude and kind of like a fresh approach to life in general, Norman said. Its nice to have a balanced life.
 
The extended honeymoon seemed to carry Norman for three days, particularly when reality and the relentless conditions began closing in on the storybook week. He answered every major setback, posting back-to-back birdies after an untidy double-bogey at the sixth hole on Friday. He pulled off a similar rally after a double bogey at the 10th on Saturday with birdies at the 14th and 17th to close his round.
 
As the wind howled through the rough-covered dunes and the rain pelted the games best into submission, Normans age became less liability and more lethal. His towering drives seemed to defy the thick, heavy howl and his calm stroke on the greens belied the blustery conditions.
 
The Australian followed his opening-round 70 in the weeks worst conditions with cards of 70-72 for an unlikely two-stroke cushion heading into the closing frame.
 
But three consecutive bogeys to begin the final round gave Harrington all the room he needed and the Irishman closed out the field with a 5-wood second shot at the par-5 17th for eagle.
 
If he wouldve won, it wouldve knocked the stands down, Strickler said. It wouldve been Woodstock. I was going to go to Amsterdam if he knocked this one out, never to be seen again.
 
For a career defined by near-misses more so than a Hall of Fame resume, Birkdale was a heartache with a measure of hope. That 1996 Masters meltdown suddenly didnt seem so sour.
 
I can stand here now and say, yeah, I'm disappointed. Where does it rank in those (other disappointments)? Probably not as high as some of the other ones. Quite honestly, I'm sure I surprised a lot of people, Norman said.
 
Even to his contemporaries, Normans ageless Open set a new standard for Grand Slam expectations, regardless of age or psychological baggage.
 
I want to go out and pull a Norman, said Paul Azinger prior to the PGA Championship, transforming the Aussies name into verb of another sort.
 
Normans tie for third also delivered an expected opportunity ' another shot at Masters redemption.
 
Im going to have my expectations the same level as when I went into the British Open, because I havent played (Augusta National) for . . . six years, said Norman, who plans to focus on his game early next year and the games of others as he transitions to his role as International Presidents Cup captain after the Masters.
 
I still think Augusta is the purest golf tournament in the world. Of course, I have had a lot of pain there, too.
 
After Royal Birkdale, Norman has never seemed more prepared to put that pain behind him.
 

Related Links:
  • Top 10 Stories of the Year archive