Norman Cliches Victory at His Own Tournament
Greg Norman finally won his own title on the fifth attempt Sunday, outlasting Spain’s José Maria Olazábal and shooting the lowest 72-hole score in the history of The Australian Golf Club.
Norman closed with a 5-under-par 67 for a four-round total of 272 to beat Olazábal (70) by two shots while American John Cook (70) and Aussies Stuart Appleby (69) and Steve Elkington (64) shared third place at 12 under.
Although he started the day a shot clear of Norman and lost by two, Olazábal did not lose any admirers in a brave and spirited performance which ended with one of the finest pressure shots seen in Australia for many years.
Trailing by two playing the par-5 last hole, he pulled his drive into trees on the left while Norman found the fairway. As Norman and his caddie considered laying up with a 9-iron and hitting a safe wedge to the middle of the green for a two-putt par and victory, the Spaniard produced a shot worthy of compatriot and friend Seve Ballesteros at the height of his powers.
From the rough under the trees he hit a 3-wood that had to stay low until it cleared the overhanging branches and then rose majestically and faded towards the green 230 yards away, guarded by both water and sand. Norman knew he still had a fight on his hands.
“When Ollie hit that magnificent shot out of the rough, I knew I had to go for it,” he said. “He was 30 feet away and was putting for eagle.” Norman had to assume that he would make the putt and was forced to go for the green as well with a 3-iron. He also found the putting surface and they both two-putted for birdie.
Norman seemed out of contention after two rounds, when he trailed the Spaniard by seven shots, but charged back into contention Saturday when he took a shot off Craig Parry’s course record of 65. On Sunday he tied Olazábal with a birdie at the first and relinquished the lead with a bogey at the fifth, but there was never more than a shot in it until the 13th.
Here Olazábal’s par putt from about three feet lipped out and when he was unable to match Norman’s birdie on the 14th, he trailed by three.
“I had 34 putts today,” he said. “I was solid tee to green for 18 holes. If I had made two or three more putts, maybe it would have been a different story over the last few holes. After I three-putted 13, I felt it slipping away. Then he birdied 14 and I had to try and force the situation. But I think he won it rather than me losing it. I shot 2 under. He shot 5 under.”
Norman said he felt great satisfaction at being able to get back into the hunt after a bad second round. For the third and final rounds, he said, his focus was entirely on the job. “I didn’t let anything in,” he said. “The only time I let my mind wander was when I was playing 10 and Steve (Elkington) was playing 18. I wanted to see if he made his birdie putt at the last (for a round of 63). I didn’t want him to break my record. I worked really hard for that and I wanted it to last more that 20 hours.”
Like Tiger Woods at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand two weeks ago, Elkington came from a long way back with a sizzling final round to let Norman and Olazábal know they did not have the tournament to themselves.
Starting the day eight shots from the lead at four under after rounds of 70, 70 and 72, his closing 64 left him two shots behind the leading pair, who had seven holes left to play.
Three birdies on the front nine did not seem enough to get him back into the tournament, but another at 11 and four in a row from 14 left him poised at 12 under. At the last his 30-footer lipped out and left him a tap in for par.
“I played well all week but did not get anything going,” said Elkington. “Today I was more relaxed and just let it rip. It was great. I thought my putt at the last was in. It had maybe a fraction too much speed. A four (for birdie) there would have made it one of the great rounds.”
A closing 68 on the course that he redesigned in the late 1970s left a smile on the face of Jack Nicklaus. “I played an absolute stinker yesterday,” he said of his third-round 75, which left him on 1-over-par 217. “Yesterday I shot 75 and had only 24 putts. That’s how badly I played. Today was much better. It was my first chance to shoot a low score for a while.”
Nicklaus, who won six Australian Opens between 1964 and 1978, said he was not satisfied with his performance for the week. “On Saturday, I felt like I was 88, not 58. My body did not work very well. No matter what I did, I could not get out of my own way. I was all over the place. I was lucky to hit it a couple of times. I mean, I nearly missed on a couple of shots. But my putting was pretty decent. That is encouraging. I know that I am not going to scare many people too often but every once in a while I might be able to.
“A good result for me at 58 would have been to lose by five or six shots. Had I played well on Saturday, I would have done that.” Nicklaus finished at 3-under-par 285, a shot worse than his son, Gary, who had rounds of 69, 75, 70 and 70, but a shot better than Raymond Floyd’s son, Robert (68-76-75-67).
When asked if Australians had seen him play his last tournament here, he replied: “You could have asked me the same question 15 years ago and the answer would have been the same. I don’t know. I will probably come back one more time before the President’s Cup (to be played in December). It depends on The Heritage, a golf course I am doing down in Melbourne. And it looks like I might be doing another course in Australia as well. When I have golf courses going, I will probably come three or four times a year.”
He will not play in the 20th Australian Masters, which starts at Huntingdale in Melbourne Thursday, but will be at Royal Melbourne tomorrow for a press conference with Peter Thomson, the captain of the International Team in the President’s Cup.