Noble bid falls short

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Rich Lerner is at Royal Birkdale this week for the 137th Open Championship. Enjoy Rich's insight and perspective from the season's third major:
 
Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England ' So amped up was the crowd at Royal Birkdale that there were even high fives for the press making their way to the first tee, and youd have to have been drinking to warm up to the press, right?
 
One man who looked as though hed drained a few sported a tattered white tee shirt with Norman scrawled on the back. It wouldnt make the Greg Norman collection, but hed applaud the spirit, as well as the retro, vintage 80s straw hat with the Shark logo that we spotted on another fan.
 
And with winds blowing 35, this was a very tough day to keep your hat on.
 
Of course this was no ordinary Sunday, but potentially an historic one. The sun was up with a chill in the air and chills when Norman stepped onto the first tee.
 
Then, like a scene from some great heavyweight bout, in came the defending champion, the beloved Irishman.
 
Oh what that must feel like, that moment before the glorious fight. All those eyes on you, and then they stand as one to cheer.
 
Greg Norman strode confidently ' has he ever done it any other way? ' down the first fairway with the rarest of later-in-life chances, the chance to dynamite a legacy without doing something unsavory, a legacy that Sports Illustrated brutally described in 1996 as also ran.
 
At 53, again Norman was in the eye of a major storm hed alternately weathered and withered under throughout his career.
 
He steadily climbed out of an early hole, leading with nine to play. Turns out, though, that that famous profile, hawk nose and the ultra aggressive approach, hasnt changed, has it?
 
He was done in, at least as the critics saw it, by his inherent go-for-broke style.
 
On the subject of style, Doug Sanders was floating all week about Birkdale like a faded leaf in autumn. Sanders infamously missed a short putt to win the 1972 Open at St. Andrews allowing Jack Nicklaus to win. He told me that in the ensuing years it didnt bother him because as he stayed busy he was able to keep it out of mind. But later in life, he said, with time to reflect, it hit him hard.
 
Norman is no Doug Sanders. But he is to a degree in the what could have been club, an alumnus of the University of Worst Major Losses in History.
 
But Normans also in the Hall of Fame. Sanders, fairly or unfairly, is recalled as the eccentric, and not a major champion.
 
To his credit, Ian Poulter made a determined bid to ensure theyd never say that about him.
 
But substance won this day, steady won this day, and now Padraig Harrington takes his place alongside European greats like Jacklin, Langer, Olazabal and Lyle ' all two-time major champions.
 
He also takes a spot next to Tiger Woods as a back-to-back Open winner, and a man who dealt with pain like he dealt with 4 footers all week, without flinching.
 
Its Harringtons crown still again, but in many ways Normans week. No, hes not the oldest major winner ever and no he did not author one of the greatest stories in sports history, but he has burnished his status as a boomer generation icon ' the embodiment of its endless search for happiness, self-fulfillment and youthfulness.
 
Perhaps therell be critics claiming it was the same old movie with the same old ending. Win two majors, make the Hall, plus hundreds of millions in business and only at that level of uber achievement where failures can be as big as the successes could they tag you with the could have done more label. Along with the yachts and jets it comes with the territory.
 
Chris Evert said long before she knew Greg she liked the way he walked and liked the way he stood.
 
He stood tall this week.
 
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