Norman Leads By 2 After 3 Rounds At The 137th Open Championship

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SOUTHPORT, England (AP) -- Greg Norman has another chance to win a major. This time, he might have nothing to lose.
In gusts that approached 50 mph Saturday at Royal Birkdale, Norman finished off another chapter of this incredible script at the British Open with the perfect pitch shot over a pot bunker that settled a few inches from the cup, the easiest putt he had all day.
Norman played bogey-free over the final eight holes for a 2-over 72, emerging from a four-way logjam at the turn to take a two-shot lead over defending champion Padraig Harrington and K.J. Choi.
The rest of the details are still hard to believe.
This is no longer the thrill-seeking Great White Shark who used to routinely beat up on the best players in every major until it was time to award the trophy. That was when his game was tested, and the wounds from so many majors-gone-wrong were still fresh.
Norman is now 53, newly wed to tennis great Chris Evert, a part-time golfer who had not played in a major for three years. The only reason he entered this British Open was to practice for a couple of senior majors in the coming weeks.
"It is different, no question," Norman said. "The players are probably saying, 'My God, what's he doing up there?"'
Equally different are the expectations.
This is the eighth time Norman, who was at 2-over 212, has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major. But it's the first time since he was six shots ahead of Nick Faldo going into the last round of the 1996 Masters, where he lost by five in a collapse that seemed to define his career in the majors.
He will be in the last group Sunday with Harrington, who doesn't see Norman as anything but a two-time British Open champion.
"When he's interested, Greg Norman can really play," said Harrington, who overcame his wind-blown mistakes with four birdies for a 72. "He's well capable of putting it together, as he's shown in the first three rounds, and I don't think anybody should expect anything but good play from him tomorrow."
Norman and Harrington were the only two players among the final 11 groups to break 75.
No one broke par. Nine players failed to break 80, including David Duval, who was three shots behind until a triple bogey on the opening hole and an 83, matching his worst score in a British Open.
Former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk was tied for the lead until he took two double bogeys and shot 43 on the back nine on his way to a 77. Choi lost the lead for good with a three-putt bogey on the 15th and wound up with a 75.
The wind raged before dawn and was relentless, measuring 30 mph when the first player teed off at breakfast and holding steady at close to 40 mph during the heart of the third round -- making it hard to appreciate what Norman was doing.
He is 18 holes away from becoming golf's oldest major champion by five years. Julius Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but Jack Nicklaus was in town on Friday. He was 46 and seemingly out to pasture when he shot 30 on the back nine at Augusta National in 1986 to win the Masters for a sixth time. Norman was a runner-up that year, naturally.
Nicklaus saw a few similarities with Norman's bid at the British Open.
"He'll remember how to play when and if he gets in a position to win a golf tournament," Nicklaus said.
That's just what Norman was doing on Saturday, manufacturing shots from memory. After two bogeys through three holes, leaving him three shots behind, he was 120 yards away from the green at No. 5 when he asked for a 5-iron before asking for the yardage.
"The yardage was mentioned to me, but I didn't even pay attention," Norman said. "I already saw the shot. I knew that was the shot I had to play to get the ball close to the hole. And I did that probably three or four, maybe five times today."
He also showed some flair, each hole giving him confidence, peeling away time.
Norman hit driver over the corner of some mounding on the eighth hole, leaving him a short pitch to the green where he made a 10-foot birdie putt to get back in the game. Then came another 350-yard drive with the wind at his back, over the grassy humps, bending back toward the fairway and leaving a 6-iron into the par-5 17th for a birdie that stretched his lead.
And what about Sunday? Norman wasn't willing to look past dinner.
He came to Royal Birkdale with no expectations, and even another 54-hole lead at a major wasn't going to change that.
"Obviously, I played well enough to put myself in this position," Norman said. "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."
It is two shots over Choi and Harrington, but with a similar weather forecast for Sunday, anything can happen.
Davis Love III made the cut on the number at 9-over par, then made 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey in his round of 70 and moved up 54 spots into a tie for 15th. That's seven shots behind Norman, or five shots behind the guys chasing him. Ben Curtis, who won the Open five years ago, holed out for eagle with a 9-iron and hung on for a 70 to move up 33 spots into a tie for fifth at 7-over 217.
Asked what it would mean to win, Norman deferred -- for now.
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself," he said. "Ask me that question tomorrow night if that happens, OK?"
But he is back in the lead, and back in the game.
Norman has said since the day he arrived at Royal Birkdale that this links course is so fair that nobody is a favorite and anybody had a chance to win. That it includes a 53-year-old on his honeymoon is testament to that.
Perhaps the best feeling he had Saturday wasn't a 5-iron from 120 yards or any other shot he created from feel. It was the nerves and chills he felt walking to the first tee, a sign that he cared.
"It was an indicator for me that I was as nervous as I felt," Norman said. "I hadn't felt that way probably for 10 years, maybe even longer. I was excited about being there. I wanted to be there. And I hope I walk to the first tee feeling the same way tomorrow.
"I'm pretty sure I'm going to be," he said, "because it's a little different situation."


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