Honeymooning ‘Shark’ Norman leads British Open

July 18th, 2008 - 11:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Southport (Britain), July 18 (IANS) Greg Norman, the 53-year-old Australian golfing legend on a honeymoon, was leading the tournament midway through the second round of the British Open at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club. Adding to the drama and just one shot behind was 26-year-old Colombian Camillo Villegas, who was making his debut at the Open only after coming in as a first reserve. Norman, who got married to tennis legend Chris Evert last month, shot a superb second even par 70 and Villegas made up for is first round 75 with a stunning 65 with five birdies on the last five holes.

It was indeed a dramatic story if there was one on yet another wet and windy day, which began quietly and then became tougher as the day progressed even though it rained less than the first day.

Interestingly, it was 11 years ago and from Norman that Tiger Woods took over as the World No. 1, after the Australian had held the top slot for a whopping 331 weeks, a figure only Woods has topped with a still running streak of 504 weeks.

When asked if he had expected to be on top when he started the week, Norman shot back immediately, “No” and smiled. Continuing he added, “My expectations are still realistically low.”

Retief Goosen, who was 71 in first round, was one-under through eight holes, and tied at second.

US Open runner-up Rocco Mediate, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, winner last week at Socttish Open and Australian Robert Allenby, the trio sharing the lead, once again shot identical rounds of three-over 73 each to be two-over 142 and were lying tied fourth, where they were joined by Jim Furyk (71) and Swede Alexander Noren (70).

Five others, K.J. Choi, Ian Poulter, Mike Weir, Heath Slocum and David Duval, were also tied at two-over 142 but they were still on their front nine.

Villegas’ presence was no less theatrical. The immaculately - dressed Villegas, who goes down almost horizonatally while reading his putts on the green, was not even born when Norman made his Open debut in 1977 and he was just four when the Australian won his first at Turnberry in 1986.

Yet they came together on Tuesday to play a practice round and both had terrific things to say about each other and now they are likely to go out together again in the third round Saturday.

Norman won the first of his two Majors in 1986, the year his new bride, Chris Evert won the last of her 18 Grand Slam titles in tennis. Time and again Norman kept referring to the positive influence his new wife, “Chrissie” has had on his already successful life and the still-stunning looking lady sitting at the back of the interview room kept beaming as only she can.

Norman, who has not played the Open last two years, admits that he is no longer physically able to play full time on the Tour. Yet, the Shark, one of the most successful golfers of all times in terms of marketing and business, shot a second successive even par 70 and showed that he is sharp as ever.

Villegas, who had to answer more than a few questions on drugs and crime in Colombia, came in only because Kenny Perry, who has won twice this year on US Tour, did not want to come across the Atlantic for British Open. “I am happy he did not,” the Colombian said.

From his birdie at the first hole, Norman played superb golf. His driving, despite the wind, was brilliant and his putting was terrific.

Tied fourth behind the three leaders, Norman went ahead with a opening birdie. As the rest of the field struggled he progressed imperiously. He then came across the treacherous par-4 6th, where he dropped a double bogey.

But he quickly recovered his ground with birdies on the seventh and eighth with a long putts to get back to under par as he turned in one-under with three birdies and a double bogey on front nine.

His finish was once superb. He hit a remarkable bunker shot at the 16th when he had to stand outside the bunker and crouch low to reach the ball. He later said, “Playing tennis with Chrissie has helped me stretch like that”.

Looking for a birdie on par-5 17th, he drove into the rough and then put his approach into the front right greenside bunker. He managed to escape with a bogey after hacking from one rough to another.

Norman admitted that the applause he got on the 18th green may have pumped him up to hit his first putt a little too hard and pushing it as much 25 feet past the hole. But he still holed that and duly got a roar that is normally reserved for champions on Sunday evening.

Starting at six over par Villegas piled misery onto himself with bogeys on two opening holes before three birdies got him to the turn in 33. He again dropped a bogey at the 13th but then ran a sequence of five birdies had the crowd on their feet despite the weather.

He was especially superb on the 18th where he pulled his tee shot left into thick rough, but hit a powerful recovery that pitched on the front of the green, hit the bottom of the pin and spun to the back edge, from where he putted out.

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