Saturday, July 19, 2008

Norman sinks a long one

The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale is shaping up to be as fascinating as ever. For what it's worth I predict that either Padraig Harrington or KJ Choi will win it, but if it's as windy and wild as it was today then anything could happen.

A couple of interesting characters in the golfing headlines this week, in both cases for the first time in a few years.

Firstly, Greg Norman. One of my biggest golfing heroes when I first got into watching golf in the 1980s and, somewhat remarkably at the age of 53, leading the Open after three rounds. I suspect his lack of recent experience at the sharp end of tournaments will count against him tomorrow, but you never know. If he does win it will be his third Major victory in a career that should have brought him an absolute hatful of wins, but didn't, partly due to his own innate capacity for self-destruction, but also through some of the rankest bad luck ever to afflict a major sportsman. With a bit of luck he could have won, off the top of my head, the 1984 US Open, the 1986 Masters, the 1986 USPGA, the 1987 Masters, the 1989 Masters, the 1989 Open, the 1993 USPGA and the 1995 US Open. The third and fourth of those were successive majors in which he would have thought he had two putts for victory, only to be denied by an outrageous chip-in from off the green (by Bob Tway and Larry Mize respectively) - enough to make anyone think someone up there had it in for them. You would think his recent marriage might have taken Norman's mind off things like sport, but apparently not.

Secondly, David Duval. A somewhat forlorn figure in recent years, so it's easy to forget that between late 1997 and mid-1999 he was the best golfer in the world by a distance. Also one of only three golfers to shoot 59 on the US tour (at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in January 1999), and there's a case for saying Duval's round is the most perfect round of tournament golf ever played: his predecessors Al Geiberger and Chip Beck had the advantage of, respectively, winter pick-and-place rules and a shortish course, and neither of those rounds were in the final round of a high-profile tournament to win it by a shot. Duval then went on to win the Open at Royal Lytham in 2001, and....well, that was the last tournament he ever won. He split up with his long-time girlfriend, was afflicted with a bizarre form of vertigo and numerous injuries, made some ill-advised swing changes and began a long plummet down the world rankings. Which is a shame , because he's an interesting character who reputedly used to read 30+ books a year on his travels on the US tour. Something you can't imagine, for all his extraordinary golfing prowess, Tiger Woods doing.

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