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From The Rough: Great Gray Shark looks at the big 5-oh

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Greg Norman

Maybe Greg Norman has found the perfect tour. Norman watched as Craig Stadler, Loren Roberts and D.A. Weibring all choked during Sunday's U.S. Senior Open finale.

Norman didn't exactly take advantage, missing a few putts that could have brought him into contention, nor did he embarrass himself, finishing fourth.

I've always liked Norman because of the juxtaposition of his inhuman golf skills and all-too-human emotional state.

He just turned 50 and, like many who have reached that milestone, is in denial. It's one of several things he is in denial about.

Norman is one of the greats in the game - he was the world's top-ranked player for 331 weeks in the 1980s and '90s - but his legacy is tainted because of his tendency to have his shirt collar shrink at the worst possible time.

In 1986, he led all four majors after three rounds but only won the British Open. He went into the 1996 Masters leading by six strokes over Nick Faldo but Norman limped home with a 78 while Faldo fired a 67 to win by five strokes.

Not all of Norman's infamous chokes were due solely to his nerves; some of them were due more to good luck on the part of his rivals. He lost the PGA Championship in 1986 when Bob Tway holed a bunker shot and the Masters in '87 when Larry Mize holed a 45-yard chip shot.

He also finished second twice at the U.S. Open, losing in a 1984 playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller at Winged Foot and to Corey Pavin in 1995 at Shinnecock.

Still, Norman continues to deny he ever choked.

"People use the word ‘choke,' but I don't think that's right," Norman wrote in a recent column for Travel & Leisure Golf. "I just plain screwed up."

Uh, Greg, that's what choking is: You shoot a 78 with a major championship on the line. You shoot a 78 in the first round of the John Deere Classic, now that's just plain screwing up.

Now, he's in his declining years - the British press has dubbed him the "Great, Gray Shark" - and believes the Senior Tour is for old-fogeys, not guys like him. He is still insisting he can play with the hot, young studs.

"If my competitive level in my game is solid like it's starting to show signs of, I'd much rather go out there and play the regular tour because I still hit the ball long enough," he said. "I feel like I'm above average than most players, even on the regular tour, so why not get out there and compete against those guys?"

Well, for one thing, it could be embarrassing. Golf is one of the few sports that allow the legends of the game to compete with the current stars. Great, but the problem is some of the legends don't want to see what their drivers license has to say.

All this being said, I'd still like to see Norman play in the majors of the Champions Tour. There are few things more painful and fascinating than watching great players choke. Maybe Norman's nerves are contagious but, after Sunday, it looks like he'll have plenty of gag company.

You'd think the old fellas would have gotten over their nerves by now. Isn't that what's supposed to happen when you reach, shall we say, a certain age? You're more mature now, you have other obligations, other priorities. You've learned how to control the yips. You can't hit it as far, but you're more wily now.

Well, I guess not.

For Norman, this was a chance to redeem himself partially. And it was obvious he wanted it.

"I've always wanted to win (a U.S. Open), " he told the media last week. "I came close enough that you could almost taste it. It didn't happen so obviously the next best thing would be to win this week. I'd love to put it on my mantle. I think that would be a very fitting start to my ‘old man's career.'"

Norman hasn't won on the regular tour since 1998 and in March he had surgery on his back. But, he continues to feel he belongs with the young bucks.

"If I play more golf and feel competitive, it's going to be on the regular Tour," he said. "I don't see myself adjusting my schedule for senior tournament golf."

No one expects that, but I'd love to see him stick with the majors on the geezers tour. Who knows, with the way the dominoes fell Sunday, he might become known as the one with the nerves of steel.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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