Greg Norman took a little while to get going this week. He started out on Thursday with six pars in a row, an unremarkable beginning to his latest bid for that elusive green jacket. Having missed the cut in his last two Tour events, was this shaping up to be another forgettable week for the Great White Shark?
Nope! No! No sir! See, when Greg finally gets going, he really gets going. You know how he rolls. Those six consecutive garden-variety pars were quickly followed by a three-birdie blitz, and suddenly he was hitting the turn in 33. Then he really started motoring, tearing up the back nine. Six more birdies on his way home, the last courtesy of a spike mark on 18 that deflected a wayward putt into the hole. Hey, when it’s your day, it’s your day, and you’ve got to take your luck while the going’s good. Back in blistering style, 30 strokes, for a course-record-equalling first round of 63.
Nick Price set that particular mark ten years ago. Ah, 1986, the year Norman got tight coming up the last, converting prime real estate in the centre of the fairway into an eminently avoidable bogey that cost him the chance of a play-off with Jack Nicklaus. He’s come even closer since, denied a year later by Larry Mize’s outrageous chip-in, then missing a 12-footer on 18 in 1989 for a play-off berth alongside unfortunate rhymer Scott Hoch and eventual winner Nick Faldo. But this year’s opening-day 63 suggests that finally, this could be Greg’s time.
Norman followed his scintillating 63 with a swell 69 and a solid 71, and goes into the final day with an almost insurmountable six-shot lead. Surely this is his day of destiny?! No player has ever shipped as big a 54-hole lead at any major, never mind here at Augusta National. In fact, it’s only happened three times on Tour (Bobby Cruickshank in 1928, Gay Brewer in 1969 and Hal Sutton in 1983). It’d take a meltdown of epic proportions for Norman to be denied this time. And even then, it’d probably require something special from one of the chasing pack, too.
The only problem with that: Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson are currently in second and third positions. The 25-year-old Mickelson hits it long and is fearless around the greens, with a riverboat approach to golf that Norman, pin-seeker to the marrow, will surely admire. Augusta will be Lefty’s playground, maybe today, certainly sometime soon, it just has to be. Meanwhile the altogether more steady and sedate Faldo – twice a winner here already, in 1989 and 1990 – is probably the last player Norman would choose to go round with him in the final group this afternoon. Norman may have snatched the 1993 Open from under Faldo’s nose with a final-day 64 at Sandwich, but when the two met in the last group on Open Saturday three years earlier at St Andrews, Faldo shot a sparkling 67 while Norman slumped to a three-putt-strewn 76, overheating under the intense spotlight of the high-profile head-to-head. He’d do well to park that memory for the next few hours.
But look, a six-shot lead is a six-shot lead is a six-shot lead, and by rights this should be a procession. CBS will be going live soon. It’s on! Before that, though, let’s remind ourselves of the state of play after 54 holes…
-13: Greg Norman
-7: Nick Faldo
-6: Phil Mickelson
-4: David Frost, Scott McCarron, Duffy Waldorf
-3: Scott Hoch, John Huston
-2: David Duval, Ernie Els, Lee Janzen, Frank Nobilo, Corey Pavin, Vijay Singh, Ian Woosnam