Norman still hungry for green jacket success

AUGUSTA, Georgia, Reuters

Competitive fires still burn in Greg Norman despite an ever expanding range of business and personal interests.

The Australian reacted, accordingly, with some asperity when asked on the eve of the 2001 Masters if he considered 46 was too old to compete seriously in a major golf tournament.

“Forty-six?” Norman replied.

“Forty-six is just a number. What is the drop-dead date? Is it 46? Is it 47 or, 50 or 52? If you still have the will and the physical ability, you still have a chance.”

Norman does not need reminding that his role model and mentor Jack Nicklaus was the same age when he won his sixth and final Masters at the famous 1986 tournament.

The athletic Australian was in his prime at the age of 31 when he succumbed to Nicklaus’s famous last round charge, eventually finishing tied for second with Tom Kite.

Agonisingly, Norman led that year after the third round of each of the four majors in an endlessly frustrating season, but finished first in the British Open only.

Time seemed to be on his side, but in the ensuing 15 years, Norman, for all his talent and fierce desire, has won just one more major, a second British Open in 1993.

His Masters experiences have been the most galling of all.

Norman has finished second three times, third three times and finished in the top 10 on three other occasions.

But he remains outwardly unscarred by a series of searing experiences at Augusta.

“I’m not going to say I’m totally impervious to them,” he said. “But I have got more good memories than any other player except Jack Nicklaus. I have played here a lot and experienced a lot of great things. I have got a lot of positive energy here.”

With a little more luck Norman could have been the man to make history by winning a grand slam of the four major tournaments.

Now it is Tiger Woods who has the chance to own all four titles simultaneously, although the consensus at Augusta this week is that the quartet have to be won in a calendar year to constitute a true grand slam.

“Tiger is a very good player,” said Norman. “But he is beatable. You are not going to beat him if you think you can’t beat him.”

At his peak Norman was one of the most breathtaking sights in sport, striding imperiously down the fairways of the world’s great courses as his fans hurried to keep pace.

Last year he recovered from hip surgery in time to carry the Olympic torch across the Sydney harbour bridge and most parts of his long body have reported fit for this weekend’s action.

“I have been practising hard,” he said. “And I’m here.”

Diplomatically, Norman declined to be drawn on any comparison between his body at 46 and that of the more generously proportioned Nicklaus at the same age.

“I’m not going to answer that,” Norman said. “Jack might read it.”