With just 18 holes to play in the British Open, it's beginning to look like "The Shark" might just be capable of putting together a Cinderella story with some major bite.
Playing in almost impossibly windy conditions, Greg Norman pressed forward with the most improbable of Open championship bids. At 53 years old, Norman shot a 2-over-par 72 Saturday at Royal Birkdale and with a 54-hole score of 2-over 212, owns a two-stroke lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington heading into today's final round.
A victory would make Norman the oldest major tournament champion. But perhaps just 24 hours from making history, the Australian wouldn't even stop to consider the possibility that he'll be the one who winds up hoisting the Claret Jug.
Asked to compare his potential victory with Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters in 1986 at age 46, "The Shark" simply wouldn't bite.
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself," Norman told reporters. "Ask me that question tomorrow night if that happens, okay?
Despite being near the top of the leaderboard in each of the first two rounds, Norman had continued to say that he was keeping "realistically low" expectations. After all, he hadn't been playing or practicing much golf, is technically on the tail end of his honeymoon with new bride Chris Evert and only entered the British Open to practice for some upcoming senior golf events.
However, Norman said now is no time to change his routine.
"I'm going to keep that same mindset," Norman said. "Obviously, I played well enough to put myself in this position. That comes from a good, safe, happy mind in a lot of ways. I'm very content in my mind, but at the same time, I have the lead now, so I'm going to go out there with the same mindset tomorrow, and it's going to be tough again tomorrow. You've got to stay focused and stay in the present of whatever you're doing."
In his career, Norman hasn't exactly been a Tiger Woods-like closer in majors. Despite having won two British Open titles, Norman is just 1-for-6 with holding a share of the 54-hole lead.
His track record was another topic Norman didn't care to discuss.
"I've got to go out there and play my game," Norman said. "I'll answer a lot of different questions tomorrow night if I have to."
Harrington, who shot a third-round 72 and is tied for second with second-round leader K.J. Choi (75), said he thinks Norman is a legitimate threat to pull off the victory.
"When he's interested, Greg Norman can really play," Harrington told reporters. "I've seen him at other times turn up at golf courses that he's looking at the design of the golf course, and he's got other things in his mind. Like anybody else, if you're not there, it doesn't happen ... but when he wants it - and he's as fit a 53-year-old as there is - so once he puts his mind to it, he certainly can play. He hasn't lost any of his ability."
Journeyman Simon Wakefield shot an even-par 70 in winds that ranged from 30-40 mph all day long to move into solo fourth place at 5-over 215. Former British Open champion Ben Curtis also shot 70 and is tied for fifth with Ross Fisher (71), Anthony Kim (71) and Alexander Noren (75).
Only adding to the impressiveness of Norman's performance was the conditions. Not a single player in the third round managed to break par, and Norman and Harrington were the only golfers in the final 11 groups to shoot better than 75.
"I'd put it in the top three hardest rounds I've ever played under the circumstances," Norman said. "I've played under tougher weather conditions, but under the circumstances, the third round of a major championship and on the Royal Birkdale golf course, it was just brutal today."
Still, Norman said he's neither physically or mentally tired as he tries to top Julius Boros as the oldest major tournament champion. Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
"I would say today made you work a little bit harder, no question about it," Norman said. "Where you really had to work hard was on putts a foot long and 18 inches long. You had to concentrate and focus so much on those, I think that takes a little bit of extra out of you.
"But I don't feel drained at all. I mean, physically, I feel very, very good."
Gavin Coles followed up his 8-under-par round of 62 on Friday with a 2-under 68 to share the 54-hole lead in the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee with second-round co-leader Nick Flanagan (69).
At 11-under 199, Coles and Flanagan own a one-shot lead over Jon Mills (64), George McNeill (66), Ken Duke (68) and Richard S. Johnson (70), who led in round one and shared the lead with Flanagan heading into the weekend.
Kenny Perry, who turned down an invitation to the British Open to play in the event at Brown Deer Golf Club, is tied for 30th at 6-under 204.
July 20, 2008
With stellar play on the back nine at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington shot a 69 in the final round to earn a four-shot victory and become Europe's first back-to-back British Open champion in more than a century. He earned nearly $1.5 million and climbed to No. 3 in the world rankings. "I'm really thrilled with the way I felt today on the golf course," Harrington said. "I hit the ball as pure as I could and just felt really good."
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