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Norman Back In The Hunt

When the week started, Greg Norman wasn't sure what clubs he would use in the 128th British Open. Last Friday, his regular and backup sets were stolen out of his Florida garage by a construction worker. The culprit finally returned them Monday morning.

That made for a long weekend for the Shark, whose form remains suspect after undergoing shoulder surgery last April.

"Maybe he went to the driving range," Norman said Friday, after playing his way back into contention with a 1-under-par 70 that left him 4-over for the championship. "They were all marked up. He wasn't a very good golfer."

Not very bright, either. The thief actually rang the doorbell and pleaded ignorance, claiming the clubs suddenly appeared out of thin air. Never mind that he was already on probation for grand theft.

Maybe he'll concoct a better alibi in jail, where he is currently cooling his heels. The 44-year-old Norman, meanwhile, spent most of Monday working on his clubs instead of practicing before flying to Scotland. He has shown signs of regaining his game, finishing third at the Masters, but like most, struggled in the first round at Carnoustie with a 5-over-par 76.

Then again, it's never smart to discount the Shark, who always seems to rise to the occasion in major championships, especially the British Open. He won Claret Jugs in 1986 at Turnberry and 1993 at Sandwich and has eight Top 10's in 20 previous appearances. He's cracked the top 25 on 13 occasions and is back in the hunt again.

After hitting only five fairways and six greens in regulation Thursday, Norman hit 10 each on Friday and caught fire on the back nine. He reeled off consecutive birdies at 12, 13 and 14 to earn a share of the lead at 1-over, then tripped coming in. An errant tee shot at the difficult par-4 17th hole proved costly, Norman whiffing his second shot and eventually settling for a hard-fought triple-bogey seven.

"I never moved the ball," he said. "I don't know what happened to it, it just went back down in the divot hole. Either the club went right underneath it or the club never reached the ball. I'm going to have to classify it as an air swing because I didn't feel it hit the club face."

Norman didn't exactly wing his drive, the ball wandering three steps off course, yet it settled into knee-high grass. At the time, he was hotter than David Duval's tea kettle.

"I think he cursed out the R&A under his breath," said playing partner Lee Janzen.

Norman's in pursuit of his third Open championship.
Norman's in pursuit of his third Open championship. (AP)

Norman wasn't the first and won't be the last. The fairways are slimmer than Tim Herron and won't be expanded any time soon.

"I don't think hitting a tee shot off the fairway deserves something like that," Norman said. "But I guess Davis Love did the same thing yesterday. I don't think that's the way the game of golf should be played. I got a real dose of punishment and it doesn't feel good."

Some U.S. players have hinted they won't return if the R&A doesn't widen the fairways in future Opens.

"I think we have some mowers that are bigger than these fairways," Janzen said. "If the setup was the same next year I don't think half the Americans would be back. It's always been a no-brainer for me to come over. If we came back here next year, I think the setup would be different."

While the majority of participants love the course, Norman called the setup "manufactured," and thinks the R&A has learned a valuable lesson. Sir Michael Bonallack, outgoing secretary of the R&A, admitted as much Thursday night on television.

"I think you'll always have players coming back to the British Open," said Norman. "I still think it's the greatest championship you could ever play in. We'll probably wake up Monday morning and say, 'God, I had a lot of fun that week.' But right now, in the heat of the moment, we don't like it."

Winless since the 1997 World Series of Golf, Norman has few complaints about his play.

"My whole ambition was to get it around 71," he said. "Forgetting the seven, I really did what I wanted to do. I put myself in the position come weekend time I'm going to be a couple back, maybe three at the outset."

Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, noticed a change in Norman once the birdie binge began. Suddenly, the fairways looked wider, the greens softer and the cups as large as coffee cans.

"Once he made a couple birdies he started hitting it better," said Janzen. "He went from semi-interested to locked in."

People noticed, too. Norman has always been a fan favorite and his gallery grew as his round progressed.

"It's a very, very good feeling because of all the people," he said. "One minute (it's) a couple of hundred, the next minute you have a couple of thousand. I don't know where they come from ... it's an amazing."

Some would say the same about Norman. Especially after the way his week started.

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