Leading up to the start of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, the world of golf questioned how much excitement would be generated in a “Tiger-less” environment.
The PGA would quickly brush that talk away, listing plenty of names who could help carry the torch until Tiger’s triumphant return.
After watching big names such as Phil Mickelson (first-round 79) and Ernie Els (first-round 80) stumble out of the gates, we waited for someone else to help carry the load. The PGA got just that, but the man who emerged was not one who anyone was expecting. While the golf world expected a lefty with a smooth swing, a tall righty nicknamed “The Big Easy,” or a Spaniard sporting vibrant colors and a kid-in-a-candy store type mindset, a shark was lurking in the tall grass at Royal Birkdale. Not just any shark, but “The Shark.” Greg Norman, at the ripe old age of 53, was back in contention at a major championship. Norman wouldn’t stop there, pushing his way to the top of the leader board after 54 holes. That is when everything began to become all too familiar.
With every missed fairway, the flashbacks became clearer. With every missed green, the images of 1986—and final day leads on all four majors—only to win one…emerged.
With every putt that lipped out on Sunday, the memories of the horrific collapse of Norman’s 1996 Masters emerged, where Norman lost a six-shot lead on the final day.
The record kept skipping, allowing for each Norman collapse to come into the clear—seven in all. The eighth one was coming. The three consecutive bogeys to open the final round of The Open Championship made the future easier to see. Yet, making the turn to the back nine, Norman managed to hold a one-shot lead. While Norman continued to struggle, the blustery weather conditions wouldn’t allow for anyone else to pull away. As a result, there was a glimmer of hope. Hope for history to unfold before golf's eyes. A 53 year-old, who hadn’t finished in the top 10 of a major this millennium, was right there. The Claret Jug was his for the taking. Only…he didn’t take it. Instead, it was Padraig Harrington who seized the day and the Claret Jug, after an electrifying finish that vaulted him to a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter. Left in the dust once again on a major championship Sunday was Greg Norman. For a weekend, the world witnessed Greg Norman’s return to glory, only to watch him falter yet again. Only this time, the majority didn’t feel for him quite like that Sunday over a decade ago. Maybe it was because at age 53, he wasn’t supposed to be here. Maybe the result could be seen on his face; that Greg Norman was at peace with his performance and pleased with a tie for third place once the tournament was over.
Maybe knowing that he had new wife Chris Evert to comfort him made things OK - but just like that…our own honeymoon with “The Shark” was likely over, too - and this time for good.
Memories of him would likely only come back once visiting a Reebok store—to see his colorful logo hung across store walls—or maybe at a liquor store as we stumble upon the Greg Norman wine label.
Sure, Greg Norman had earned an invite to Augusta (for finishing in the top four at Royal Birkdale), but do we honestly think he will make the cut?
Maybe any or all of the above is true, or maybe it’s something else.
Perhaps as fans, we feel cheated. History was there for the taking—a story brighter than anything Tiger could have presented us with was right there, only to be blown away in the howling wind of Merseyside.
This was supposed to be Greg’s day again…but it wasn’t. Instead, it was Paddy’s day—times two—and the world of golf is once again left feeling nothing but a little bit of déjà vu.