Sports Outside the Beltway

Just how often has Greg Norman come close to winning a major championship

Much was made of the Shark having the lead going into the final round of a major championship yesterday. The 2008 British Open marking the seventh time Norman didn’t win on Sunday when in that position. The one exception- The 86 British Open.

Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN writes-

Yes, this now makes nine near-misses in majors for Norman

I’m not picking on Gene, or maybe just a little, my main focus of what I write next is just how many near misses Norman has had.

Lets start with the obvious, 2nd place finishes in major championships. Norman accomplished this in

Masters- 1986, 87*, and 96
US Open- 84* and 95
British Open- 89*
PGA Championship- 86 and 93*

*- denotes a tournament Norman lost in a playoff

That is 8 times right there, and 5 of those are instances where Norman had the lead on Sunday.

If you count the 7 missed Sunday opportunities as near misses, add in the other times Norman finished second in a major, the total would be 10 not 9. The three majors that are to be added, are the 84 US Open, the 89 British Open, and the 87 Masters. I don’t see how you can’t count these, Norman lost all three in a playoff.

I’m not done yet.

Norman missed a playoff at the 89 Masters by one shot, Greg finishing tied for 3rd.
Norman opened the 1999 Masters, one shot behind eventual winner Jose Maria Olazabel. Norman played in the final group with Olazabel.
Here’s an obscure one, Norman finished 4th at the 1981 Masters. 3 shots behind Tom Watson. He opened the final 3rd in 3rd place, and just two back. I can’t say for certain, but there is a good chance Norman was playing with Watson on Sunday in 1981. The Masters used to pair players 1-3, 2-4, 5-7, 6-8. They did that till at least 1979 that I know for certain.
Another obscure one- 1982 PGA. Greg Norman entered the final round tied for 2nd.

So I will analyze the above.

Norman’s 8 second place finishes count as near misses.
The 86 US Open and 2008 British Open get counted also because Norman held the lead going into Sunday’s final round. That brings our total to 10.
Without reservation, I think the 89 and 99 Masters need to be added to the list. Norman had legitimate chances to win both. Maybe more so than either the 86 US or 08 British. In those cases The Shark was pretty much done by the turn.
The 82 PGA has the weakest case for being added to the list, Norman opened the final round five shots back, and finished 5th 5 shots behind Ray Floyd. Floyd wired the field that year, winning by 3 shots, and if I recall he made a Sunday double bogey on 17 or 18 or the margin would have been bigger. So I won’t count this major as a Norman near miss.
The 81 Masters is a little borderlinish, but I think it should be counted. Norman started Sunday 2 behind. I don’t know if he ever had the lead that day, but going into the final round you have to count anyone that close with a legit chance to win.

So the total for Norman’s major championship near misses is at least 13, definitiely not a total in single figures. Yesterday’s 3rd place finish earns Norman at least one more Masters invite. I strongly believe yesterday was the last time we’ll see Norman contend in a PGA Tour event.


Irish Eyes are smiling- Padraig Harrington wins back to back British Opens

The Irish golfer won by four shots over Ian Poulter. Greg Norman, who had the lead going into the final round, finished tied for third with Henrik Stenson. Jim Furyk was the low American, finishing tied for 5th with amateur Chris Wood.

A four-shot margin victory usually denotes a tournament with little suspense. That can hardly be said for the 2008 British Open. First Harrington played the front nine in three over. That and Norman’s struggles allowed many players into the tournament. Harrington then steadied himself but it was not before he made a birdie on 15 did that victory looked fairly certain. An eagle on the Par five 17th doubled Harrington’s lead from two to four shots.

With Harrington winning in 2007 also, we now have had back to back back to back British Open champs. Tiger Woods in 05 and 06 and now Harrington. Before that you got to go back to Tom Watson in 82 and 83. Next year’s British Open goes to Turnberry. Can Harrington be the first player to three peat since Peter Thomson in 1956? He likes links golf, but we’ll have to wait a year.

One last thing- Tom Watson won his 5th British Open at Birkdale and his first at Carnoustie. The courses Harrington has won on. How about Turnberry? That was the sight of Tom Watson’s famous 1977 duel with Jack Nicklaus. Watson came out on top. History may be on Harrington’s side. Carnoustie was out of the British Open rotation from 1976-98 and Turnberry was only added in 1977 and has not held the Open since 1994. There isn’t that large a group who had chances at all three of these courses.

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British Open after 36 holes- KJ Choi leads by one shot

The seven-time PGA Tour winner has never finished better than third in a major championship. From AP-

K.J. Choi rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the final hole for a 3-under 67 in more gloom and wind along the Irish Sea, giving him his first lead in a major championship. It will be the second straight year he plays in the final group at the British Open going into the weekend.

But the biggest surprises were right behind him, starting with a pair of British Open champions who once were No. 1 in the world.

Norman barely touched a club in the month leading up to his 26th appearance in golf’s oldest championship. The 53-year-old married tennis great Chris Evert three weeks ago, and a trip to England counts as the tail end of his honeymoon.

He wound up renewing his love affair with links golf, delivering great escapes over his final three holes for an even-par 70 that put his name atop the leaderboard for most of the afternoon until Choi birdied the final two holes.

Choi was at 1-under 139, one shot ahead of Norman.

An argument can be made for Choi as the best player in the world without a major. It will have to be seen if he can hold up over the weekend.

Norman, the 1986 and 1993 British Open Champion, playing well is one of the two biggest surprises so far in the tournament. It will be even a bigger one if he is still around the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. I said the same thing about Rocco Mediate at last month’s US Open, and we all know how that ended.

Choi and Norman will be playing together tomrorrow. When Norman won the 1986 BO, his final round playing partner was Tommy Nakajima. Like Choi, Nakajima was probably the most recognizable Asian player in the world and arguably the region’s best player. Nakajima shot a final round 77 that day in 86, and was not a factor on Sunday as Norman won by 5.

I wish the media would stop talking about Norman’s divorce and then his marriage to Chris Evert. Norman has a home in my end of Florida, I’ve worked hard to avoid this incessant gossip reporting. I want to read about the British Open, not what a player is doing in their private life.

Camillo Villegas is in solo third, two shots back. The group at 142 three strokes behind Choi include Jim Furyk(One of my three picks this week. Stuart Appleby is at 143, Justin Leonard is further back but made the cut), Defending BO Champ Padrig Harrington, Robert Allenby, and 2001 British Open Champ David Duval. Duval’s being contention has to be considered as equally suprising as Greg Norman at this stage. Since his win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001, Duval’s career has been in a tailspin.

Time to settle in for a weekend of links golf. There really hasn’t been a boring British Open weekend in some years. Probably the last was Duval’s 2001 triumph. I expect a great deal of leaderboard changes as a result of tomorrow’s round, after all Saturday is ‘moving day’ in professional golf.


Greg Norman Wedding Chris Evert

Greg Norman and Chris Evert are getting married.

Chris Evert and Greg Norman Wedding Photo Golfing legend Greg Norman(R) and former tennis star Chris Evert(L), seen here in April 2008, will marry this weekend in the Bahamas, the Australian Associated Press reported Thursday. (AFP/File/Mark Ralston)

Golfing legend Greg Norman and former tennis star Chris Evert will marry this weekend in the Bahamas, the Australian Associated Press reported Thursday.

The couple, both 53, are to wed Saturday at sunset on a beach in Paradise Island, the AAP said, citing various media reports. The pair announced their engagement last December.

Guests are believed to include former US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush senior, American actor Chevy Chase, tennis great Martina Navratilova and singers Gwen Stefani and Kenny Loggins.

Norman, who has won two British Open titles among scores of other tournaments, and Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles, arrived in Paradise Island on Thursday.

Both are well past their heyday but they were indeed legendary figures in their games. Evert was America’s sweetheart for years, although overlapping careers with Billy Jean King and Martina Navratilova, who were arguably more dominant players. She was much more telegenic, however. Norman was one of the great golfers of the 1980s and early 1990s, although he’s probably best remembered for an epic collapse at the Masters.

Norman, Evert to marry in Bahamas (AFP)


Phil Mickelson seeks long distance swing help

Phil Mickelson is struggling with his golf swing at the Singapore Open.

SINGAPORE — Phil Mickelson sought some long-distance coaching after finishing two strokes off the pace in Thursday’s opening round of the Singapore Open, behind a trio of leaders that upstaged the tournament’s big names.

Mickelson was as surprised by the quality of the opposition as he was dismayed with his form off the tee as he recorded a three-under 68 at the US$4 million (2.7 million) tournament.

He was two shots behind Australia’s Gavin Flint and Kane Webber and Jin Park of the United States, who each shot a five-under-par 66.

“I scored well and got the ball into the hole well,” Mickelson said after the round. “But my driving has been terrible and the worst that its been since I started working with (coach) Butch (Harmon).

“Its 10:15 his time at night and I’m going to give him a call, wake him up.

“I’m lucky to escape with a three-under-par round. I’ll talk to Butch to see if I can get it ironed out for tomorrow.”

Mickelson, who is attending the tournament after his family home narrowly escaped the Californian wildfires, was taken aback by the challenge of the course and rival players.

“I didn’t expect the course to be that difficult,” Mickelson said. “This is a tour-caliber golf course. The fairways are in perfect condition, and it’s tight. The rough is thick and the greens are fair and fast. It’s a good test of golf.

“I haven’t been made aware of how good the golf is in Asia. These players are strong.”

Phil’s history of wayward tee shots involves much more than the Singapore Open and last year’s US Open. In the 1995 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, Phil’s refusal to think conservatively when playing the par five 16th hole, probably cost him the championship. Phil played the hole in six over par for four rounds. That year’s US Open winner, Corey Pavin, played the hole in a less swashbuckling fashion and scored -1 for four days. Phil finished T-4 four shots behind Pavin.

Can a swing coach really help a player half way around the world? I’d think Harmon would need to see at least video of Phil’s swing to be able to help.

Maybe Phil(or another golfer) has been helped this way before. Feel free to correct me.

Thirdly, I don’t know why Phil is so surprised about the Asian tour or the golf course in Singapore. Payne Stewart, Greg Norman, and Vijay Singh to name a few all got their professional start playing in these tournaments. The Asia and Australia tours are hardly the equivalent of bush leagues.


Doral is still Doral

The Palm Beach Post’s Dave George writes about the PGA Tour’s identity crisis since it became a World Golf Championship event.

The field may be better at Doral this year, but what about the feel?

It’s a question of the heart, not the mind. The Blue Monster course is a South Florida classic.


Likewise, the tournament that Billy Casper first won here in 1962 was never defined by its numerous title sponsors, but by a list of monstrous multiple champions that runs through Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd and winds up, eventually, like all others, with Tiger Woods.

Doral had a distinct identity, in other words, that for decades has overmatched so many other PGA Tour events, including our own Honda Classic.

And now, this week, comes the unsettling whiff of identity theft, as Doral becomes the WGC-CA Championship, as Miami’s specialty becomes a global curiosity.

Please don’t misunderstand. Tiger, the two-time defending champion, is here, so that pretty much takes care of any attendance questions other than how many fans can the course and the parking lots physically accommodate.

Every other player with a Thursday tee time is absolutely worth watching, too, and capable of winning. Silly to think otherwise when 49 of the world’s top 50 ranked stars are present.

The problem, if there is one, involves tampering with one of the most consistently successful stories in South Florida sports.

How, for instance, is it possible to improve on “The Duel at Doral” from two years ago, when Tiger and Phil Mickelson played in the final Sunday group and Vijay Singh was in contention, too?

Tiger birdied from 30 feet on No. 17 to take the lead and Lefty lipped out a chip shot on the finishing hole that could have forced a playoff. That was more than globally significant. Try galactic.

“It was almost like a major championship,” Johnny Miller said.

And how about last year’s finish, with nine of the world’s top 10 golfers at Doral and a crowd-pleasing Colombian named Camilo Villegas pushing Tiger to the final putt?

Villegas, a playoff participant at the Honda two weeks ago, isn’t at Doral because he doesn’t have the world points or the PGA Tour money to rate a spot.

He doesn’t have the points, but Villegas clearly has the pizazz.


There always was a buzz, however, with familiar characters like Doug Sanders and Lee Trevino and Andy Bean on championship runs, and a genuine appreciation for the steady career accomplishments of other former Doral winners, like Nick Faldo and Tom Kite and Jim Furyk and Ernie Els.

Yes, I think the world of Doral, and maybe that’s the real issue here.

Giving this South Florida gem over to the world, for a little while or forever, is just a little too foreign a concept for me.

Doral hasn’t changed to me. The field is smaller, but the course defines the tournament in my opinion. Forty five years of history isn’t wiped out because the sponsor changes. Tournament sponsors come and go, and so will WGC(And the much ballyhooed Fedex Cup) one day also. Doral will still be a part of the tour and its history. I’m betting the tournament will be back to regular event status within five years.

Feel free to remind me if I’m wrong.


Diversity in golf?

Craig Dolch at the Palm Beach Post wrote-

In 2000, there were 19 foreign-born players on the PGA Tour. This season, there are 24 Australians alone.

Want more proof of how international the Tour has become? This year’s Masters, for the first time, will have more foreign players than Americans.

International invasion
Foreign players have steadily increased in number on the PGA Tour this decade:

Year Number
2000 19
2001 48
2002 56
2003 60
2004 71
2005 78
2006 75
2007 76
Source: PGA Tour
More golf
Honda Classic coverage

“That’s an unbelievable stat, for sure,” said one of the foreign players, England’s Justin Rose. “Golf is a growing sport in Europe, and our presence over here is only going to get stronger and stronger.”

The Honda Classic reflects this global shift, with its past two winners non-Americans: England’s Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington of Ireland. That’s quite a change from watching the first 21 Hondas won by U.S. players. Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, now a Jupiter Island resident, ended that streak when he won the 1994 Honda at Weston Hills. Since, six of the past 13 Honda winners have been international players.

So why did the PGA Tour go from being comprised mostly by Americans to a melting pot? Most players say it comes down to two words: world rankings.

In the late 1990s, the PGA Tour started using the world rankings to set the fields for the three lucrative World Golf Championships. This gave foreign players an easier way in to those events, and the prize money that comes with them.

Then, the four major championships soon added world rankings to their entry criteria – anyone in the top 50 gets in. By playing in only those seven tournaments, international players could earn enough money to gain their Tour card and full access to the rest of the events on the PGA Tour.

The money and ease of jet travel have been here for years, so I think the World Golf Championships are part if not most of the cause for more foreign players in the US. Also there are more players like Luke Donald or Carl Pettersson who played college golf in the states. I think that has to have changed the equation also.

In the past players like Greg Norman, David Graham, Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin turned pro in Australia and eventually came to the US to play. Australians have been playing the US or European golf circuits for fifty years. Look at five time British Open Champ Peter Thomson. With the exception of Thomson,(Note Thomson only won one US non-senior title in limited play.) career on the seniors tour was suce these Australians were all very sucessful in the US and lived here also at least on a part-time basis.

While the PGA tour is diverse in Europeans and Australians, there is black hole when it comes to players of color. Other than Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, KJ Choi and Shigeki Maruyama, there are few proven Asian golfers on tour and no blacks on tour.(None that I know of, unless any made it through the last Q school) The LPGA on the other hand features over 40 South Korean players alone but has no blacks either. Are the pro golf tours really diverse?

I think we can still safely say golf is still a game for white men.


Mat McBriar on Steve Irwin’s Death

DMN columnist Matt Mosley reports that Dallas Cowboys punter Mat McBriar was “genuinely moved by the death of Steve ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin.”

McBriar and Irwin were born in Victoria, near Melbourne. Every night before McBriar goes to bed (starting to feel weird about this sentence), he checks out a couple of Australian newspapers on the Internet. He said he was in shock when he read the news.

This led to a discussion of famous Australians. In McBriar’s mind, Irwin’s ahead of Greg Norman, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.

Not since Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan has there been an Aussie who so personified the island-continent’s self-image as Irwin. And, of course, Dundee was just a character. Irwin was real, and so was the danger he faced.



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