Norman turns back clock to lead British Open
Vail CO, Colorado
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) ” So, Greg Norman, how are you enjoying the honeymoon?
A month after marrying tennis great Chris Evert, the Shark has turned back the clock at the British Open, a major he won two times in his prime but never thought was still there for the taking at age 53.
For the second straight round, Norman matched par with a 70 Friday at brutally tough Royal Birkdale and will head to the weekend with the lead or, at the very least, in contention.
Who would’ve believed it?
Certainly not Norman.
“Nope,” he said bluntly. “My expectations were almost nil coming in, to tell you the truth. I hadn’t played a lot of golf.”
With 36 holes to go, Norman still considers himself the longest of long shots, and he’s got players half his age ” such as 26-year-old Camilo Villegas, who shot the best round yet with a brilliant 5-under 65 Friday ” ready to chase him down over the final two rounds.
Still, it was amazing to see Norman’s name atop the leaderboard at a tournament he won in 1986 at Turnberry and then again in at Royal St. George’s seven years later.
“You feel like you’re stepping back in time,” he said, his bride watching from the back of the room after following him around the links course on another windy, damp day. “Still, my expectations are still realistically low, and I have to be that way, too. … I haven’t been there for a long time.”
Norman’s focus has certainly been elsewhere in recent years as he cut back on his golf, turned to his myriad business interests and endured a messy, costly divorce. Recently, he was more concerned about planning his wedding to Evert than prepping for the Open, one of the rare golf events on his schedule.
The two got married in the Bahamas less than three weeks ago, then kept the honeymoon going by heading across the Atlantic.
“The least of my worries was getting out there and practicing,” Norman conceded. “My mind has really been elsewhere. Justifiably so, too.”
With no offense to Norman’s steady play, no one was hotter Friday than Villegas, who started his round with two bogeys but closed with five straight birdies ” rolling in putts of 16, 6, 16, 3 and 20 feet.
“I obviously played unbelievable,” the Colombian said. “My caddie just told me to keep battling, keep grinding.”
Villegas, dubbed “Spider-Man” for his unique, crouching style of reading putts and one of golf’s fashion leaders, has come across as more flash than substance. He’s never won on the PGA Tour, but put himself right in contention at a tournament known for unlikely champions, including Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton.
The charismatic Colombian had eight birdies overall. He capped his amazing run at the end by striking the flagstick with his approach at No. 18, then sinking the putt after the ball ricocheted onto the fringe.
A host of top players teed off in the afternoon, but only K.J. Choi was making a run at the lead. A birdie at No. 13 pushed the South Korean to 1 under for the day and left him only one stroke behind Norman.
Mike Weir was 2 over at the turn and Retief Goosen was really struggling on the back side with four bogeys in seven holes. Both opened with 71s in fearsome conditions Thursday and went to the second round just one stroke off Norman’s pace.
The weather couldn’t be blamed this time. Despite a grim forecast, the rain was holding off ” except for a hard but brief shower just after lunchtime ” and the breeze off the Irish Sea remained relatively calm by Birkdale standards.
Sergio Garcia, looking to make up for a devastating playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at last year’s Open, rolled in a 75-foot birdie at No. 4 but ran into trouble after the turn. He bogeyed the 10th and double bogeyed the next hole on the way to a 73, pushing him five strokes behind Norman.
Harrington, bothered by a sore wrist, was at 5 over with two holes to play.
Several big names were in danger of missing the cut. Ernie Els and Vijay Singh both plodded along after opening with 80s, failing to make their expected moves, while Phil Mickelson was just even on the day after shooting 79 Thursday.
No one would have expected David Duval to make the cut, but it sure looked that way. The 2001 British Open champion was 1 under through 10 holes, joining the crowded pack at 2 over. Not bad for a guy who’s missed 10 of 11 cuts on the PGA Tour.
Norman was two strokes ahead of the field until he made a mess of No. 17. He put two shots in the rough and another in a backside bunker, but rolled in a 12-footer for bogey that limited the damage.
After a perfect drive on No. 18, Norman walked up the fairway twirling his club and taking in a huge roar from the British gallery, which knows him as a two-time Open winner, not the guy who squandered numerous chances to win majors in the States.
Norman’s approach came up far short of the flag, then he rocketed the putt 20 feet past. Facing another bogey, the Aussie sank a par saver, giving the slightest hint of a fist pump, then a tip of the cap as his caddie patted him on the shoulder.
“That was quite an ordeal last few holes,” Norman said. “I felt like it was getting away from me a little bit.”
Rocco Mediate, who shared the first-round lead with Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby at 69, couldn’t match that score but was still in contention. A double bogey at No. 11 marred the American’s round, but he tapped in for birdie at the final hole to cap a 73 that left him two strokes behind Norman.
Mediate is following up on the U.S. Open, where the 45-year-old journeyman gave Tiger Woods all he could handle until losing a 19-hole playoff. He doesn’t have to worry about Woods this time ” the world’s best player is sitting out the rest of the year recovering from knee surgery.
“It made me think I can do it again,” Mediate said. “I don’t know what will happen, but I know I’ll be more comfortable.”
McDowell was struggling ” with four bogeys and no birdies ” until a 3-wood at No. 16 set up a short birdie putt. He finished with a 73 and was tied with Mediate at 142, as was Allenby (73), Jim Furyk (71) and unheralded Swede Alexander Noren (70).
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