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Greg Norman's 2008 British Open: Best Performance by an Aging Athlete

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Greg Norman's 2008 British Open: Best Performance by an Aging Athlete
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

He was 53 years old and on his honeymoon.

And yet, here was “The Shark,” a great golfer better known now for his clothing line, wines, and an epic collapse in the 1996 Masters, coming out of retirement and walking to the tee box on Sunday at Royal Birksdale holding the 54-hole lead at the 2008 British Open.

As a few of Bleacher Report’s writers have recently submitted articles on some of their favorite performances by older athletes, I feel that we would be remiss in omitting the performance of Greg Norman last July, especially as he prepares to tee off in this weekend’s Masters.

Norman, 14th on the PGA all-time money list, had not made a cut in a PGA tournament since the 2005 Open Championship going into the '08 British Open.

In fact, Norman’s inclusion in the field was due solely to his being a past champion, in 1993 and 1986.

And yet, when he showed up, there was something different about him. He was happier and cited his recent marriage to tennis great Chris Evert as a big reason why.

 

On Thursday of the 2008 Open, in nasty conditions, Norman played well as he balanced two bogies with two birdies and finished even on the day.

At that point, he was tied for fourth and only one shot off the lead.

 

Friday brought much of the same for the Shark. He made great shots throughout the day, and his star was shining. The coverage was turning more and more to this aging anomaly.

It was a nice story for the man who had not been more than a mention even on the Champions Tour.

Despite a near-disastrous double bogey on the par-four sixth, Norman sat alone in second, one shot behind K.J. Choi, heading into the weekend. Defending champion Padraig Harrington lurked just two shots back.

 

The weather was again a factor on Saturday.

Norman fell back two shots on the day, but so did the rest of the field. He was alone in first with Choi and Harrington two shots back heading into the final round.

Greg made history that evening when he became the oldest man to ever hold even a share of the 54-hole lead at a major championship.

It was an incredible feat for the aging star, and yet, there was Norman’s looming past casting a shadow over his accomplishment. While the media, perhaps, should have talked up the enormity of the event, they could not let go of Norman’s 1996 Masters’ performance.

Holding a six-shot 54-hole lead at Augusta National, Norman had fallen apart, dropping 11 shots in the greatest collapse in major history, and Nick Faldo had taken the Green Jacket.

The media could not let it go and, perhaps, neither could Norman: His final round at the 2008 Open included a heart-breaking eight bogies and only one birdie.

However, at the end of the day, it didn’t feel like Norman blew another tournament. He was tied for third and was enjoying the best result in a major by someone of his age.

It wasn't even so much that Norman lost this one; more like Harrington won it with a blistering back nine, as he compiled a final-round score of 69.

 

While Greg didn’t hoist the Claret Jug, he did revive his dormant career with a historic performance.

His play was so impressive that, though he arrived quietly at Royal Birksdale, he is now a player to watch at this weekend’s Masters.

The top story will of course be the return of Tiger Woods, but 54-year-old Greg Norman will be followed closely this week as he tries to pair another historic major performance to last year’s British Open.

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