THEY LOOKED likekids, walking hand in hand one night around the Royal Birkdale parking lot,Shark with his big green-and-white throwback MacGregor golf bag on hisshoulder, broad-shouldered and shaggy-haired and appearing ready for the surf,Chrissie in pigtails, one knotted off with a blue scrunchie, the other with ared. Two 53-year-old Hall of Fame newlyweds. You may know the routine: Hubbyplays golf while the new wife, all smiley, walks along the side of the fairway,cheering him on. For a while the golf seems both important and inconsequential,which frees up the swing. Of course, no honeymoon lasts forever, so enjoy itwhile you can, right?
Last month GregNorman married Chris Evert, second nups for him, third time for the tennislegend/America's sweetheart, fresh start for both of them. Last week, on awindswept links where whole shrubs gyrated as if they were doing the twist,Norman did what others try to achieve through surgery, the gym, the diet of themonth: He turned back time. After 63 holes he was leading the British Open, bya shot over defending champion Padraig Harrington, of Ireland and the rest ofthe world. (Paddy has a passport and uses it.) Norman's golf was studly. As thesaying goes, or should, 53 is the new 46. (See: Nicklaus, Jack; 1986 Masters.)Except for some lines on his face and the silver in his hair, Norman looks ashe did in '86, when he won the British Open in the wind at Turnberry. He's notas straight with the driver as he was in '93, when he won his second Open, atRoyal St. George's, but he's just as long, maybe longer—it was hard to judgelast week, with the wind machine on and the fairways as hard and flat as thelid of your laptop.
These days, Normandoesn't play much tournament golf. (He says he spends a lot of his time onother interests: tennis, wine, fishing, his many businesses, his two kids—andChrissie.) But when he does play, he often makes good scores, although not fourgood ones in a row. In February he played well, at least for a while, at thePebble Beach Pro-Am, inspired by the chance to play with his son, Gregory. InMay he played well at the Senior PGA Championship, inspired by the difficultyof the course, Oak Hill, in Rochester, N.Y. Last week there were inspirationsevery time he looked up: clapping fans, his celebrity gym-thin wife, ademanding course and the oldest title in all of golf dangling before him (as itturned out, just beyond his reach). Last week, said K.J. Choi's veteran caddie,Andy Prodger, Norman was "all there."
For Norman, morethan any other player you could think of, it's a shame golf doesn't allow youto play defense. A partial list of people he would have taken down at thewaist: Nicklaus, Larry Mize, Bob Tway, Paul Azinger, Nick Faldo (all of whomgot in his way in majors). He may now add Harrington, his Sunday playingpartner at Birkdale, to that list. Harrington's play on the final nine holes,where he shot 32, was close to flawless. In majors, if you're in the hunt withnine to go, and then you play some crazy good golf at showtime? You win everytime, and that's what Harrington did. Two British Opens in two years. With hisgrinder personality and game, he should win a U.S. Open or a PGA Championshipsomeday.
Harrington, whowill turn 37 next month, is long-winded and earnest in the press tent, notnearly as slow on the course as he used to be, goofy in an endearing way inpublic with his wife and two young kids, and likable. Norman went bunker tobunker on these final nine holes, covered in 39 shots for a closing seven-over77, and as he and Harrington walked up 18, the winner-to-be thanked him forbeing such good "company." You may call that class, manners,whatever—he's a sweet guy and a complete player. In '86, when Norman won hisfirst Open, Harrington was a teenager in Dublin, bucktoothed and wide-eyed,with dreams of playing the Open but a plan to become an accountant. First heditched the accounting thing. Then he got the teeth straightened. More recentlyhe got the body tight. He has played in 12 Opens, and on his 11th try, atCarnoustie last July, he cradled the old jug.
During thepractice rounds last week, Harrington was debating whether he would evenattempt to defend, because of a strained right wrist. He practiced chiefly witha putter and a wedge. But last Thursday he was ready to go, and his rounds of74, 68, 72 and 69 (all told, three over par) gave him a two-shot win over IanPoulter of England. Poulter and Harrington will be on Ryder Cup teams togetherin the future. Someday Harrington will captain one.
To play home in 32shots on a Sunday evening in a pant-flapping cross-breeze—two birdies, oneeagle, no mistakes—is the kind of thing that brings to mind the last two men towin consecutive British Opens: Tiger Woods (2005--06) and Tom Watson(1982--83). Watson was in the field last week, missed the cut by a shot andspent the weekend in the ABC broadcast booth. You could guess that Woods,recuperating from his left knee surgery at home, was watching Norman andHarrington and listening to Watson on TV. Would Woods have won? You can't say.He has played in 13 British Opens but has won only three. Harrington's one ofthe guys who can beat him. As for Tiger and Shark, their careers never reallyoverlapped.
The wait for Aprilbegins. Harrington will be in the field at the Masters, of course. And courtesyof his tie for third, so will the Great White Shark. For Tiger, one more guy tobeat.
Follow Greg Normanand the Senior British Open at GOLF.com.
We're not trying to provide more fodder for Al Gore,but in recent years the men's majors have been plagued by extreme conditions.Here, in order of extremity, are seven of the worst.
1 2008 BRITISH OPEN, Royal Birkdale, Southport,England
Four days of wind, often howling; two days of steady rain. Bad enough that JohnDaly (left) shot a 19-over 89 on Friday.
2 2007 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP, Southern Hills, Tulsa
Four days of near 100° heat. Even Tiger Woods, the winner, in his Nike Dri-Fitduds, was drenched in sweat.
3 2003 MASTERS, Augusta National, Augusta
Torrential rain prompted officials to pour a sandy, water-absorbing mix on thecourse that smelled—to be delicate—like manure.
4 2002 BRITISH OPEN, Muirfield, Muirfield, Scotland
One of the wettest summers on record produced rough so high that you could,literally, mislay a golf bag in it. Woods shot an 81—his worst round in amajor—during a driving rainstorm on Saturday.
5 1992 U.S. OPEN, Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach, Calif.
In Sunday's near gale, caddies were replacing flagsticks with two hands, visorswere flying, and Tom Kite shot a 72 to win his only major.
6 1994 U.S. OPEN, Oakmont, Oakmont, Pa.
Five days—with a Monday playoff—of suffocating heat and humidity yieldedsix-hour rounds on Thursday and Friday and a very red-faced Colin Montgomeriewhen the playoff was over.
7 2000 BRITISH OPEN, Old Course, St. Andrews,Scotland
Four days on the most exposed course in the British Open rota with barely abreath of wind. "It was so weird," said winner Woods of the stillconditions. "I couldn't get over it."
SOD STORY Harrington (left) worked the ball, while Norman was left talking to it.
[See caption above]
ROBERT BECK (DALY)