SHARK ATTACK

Greg Norman savaged the best leader board in 20 years to win a memorable British Open
July 25, 1993

Even to the end, Greg Norman would not believe it. Outside the scoring trailer all of England buzzed, but inside he would stare only straight ahead.

Outside, Norman's wife, Laura, was trying to give an interview through runny makeup, but behind the glass over her shoulder, Norman would not smile, would not speak. Outside, Norman's caddie, Tony Navarro, was showing people his lucky caddie badge number—00001—and trying to swallow down the thrill, but Norman would not budge. Outside, Norman's friends were hugging and crying, and the engraver was engraving the silver claret jug that would surely be his, but Norman would not let himself be fooled.

Something had to go wrong. The sucker punch had to be coming. Didn't they remember? Didn't they recall how the world had chipped in, wedged in and caved in on him all those times? How Bob Tway had chipped in out of a bunker to steal his 1986 PGA title? How Larry Mize had chipped in from 140 feet to steal his 1987 Masters championship? How Robert Gamez had holed a seven-iron to beat him at Bay Hill in 1990? How David Frost had holed a sand wedge to beat him that same year at New Orleans? How he had finished second in majors on five occasions? Did they have any idea how sick of second a man can get?

No, no, no. You were not going to fool him that fast. As long as Nick Faldo was still out there with a golf club in his hand, Norman wasn't so much as smiling. Faldo could still hole out that four-iron on number 18 and tie him. For as magnificent as the 64 was that he had just carved against the best leader board in 20 years, as enduring as his record-breaking 13-under-par 267 had been, as shimmering as his shot making had been, the trapdoor could still open, and he knew it. He would not let the greatness of what he had just done sink in.

So he found one spot in the corner of the ceiling of the little trailer and stared at it, like a kid made to memorize fractions at a classroom birthday party. Behind him the half dozen Royal and Ancient officials who had been granted exclusive visiting rights to what they thought would be the ecstatic winner could only stand around awkwardly and think of something to do with their hands.

But my god, all that blustery Sunday the rest of England had known exactly what to do with its hands—clap them sore. For on one unforgettable day the world's best golfers happened to play their best golf in the biggest event in the world. And if you were one of the 27,500 spectators there, bronze the ticket stub, for golf does not get many quorum calls like this. Golf is much too fickle.

For instance, when you are lucky enough to get the brave Nick Faldo (ranked No. 1 in the world) atop a Sunday-morning leader board, then the dangerous Greg Norman (No. 4) has usually missed the cut and is already punching out a moray eel somewhere. And if you should be lucky enough to get the brave Nick Faldo and the dangerous Greg Norman, then the steely-eyed Bernhard Langer (No. 2) probably did not enter at all and is playing in the Abu Dhabi Classic. If you got all three, you could forget about getting the white-hot Nick Price (No. 3) and the smooth-swinging Fred Couples (No. 5) and maybe John Daly besides.

Yet last week in the no-stoplight town of Sandwich, England, on a seaside course of 'umps and 'ollows known as Royal St. George's, the little yellow scoreboard had them all—half the majors winners over the last four years, four of the last seven British Open champions, the last three leading money winners on the PGA Tour, plus this year's money leader. You could almost hear the leader board groan under their weight.

The 1993 British Open was to golf what the cast of The Great Escape was to Grauman's Chinese Theater. "This," Norman said on Saturday night, "is going to be one of the greatest British Opens ever."

Cripes, what had it been so far, a warm cucumber sandwich? On Thursday, Norman himself looked as if he might get on with the scuba diving early. He hit his first drive into the hay, his second shot into the hay and his third into the hay, and hey, he made double bogey. But he closed with five straight birdies and a 15-foot par-saving snake on the 18th to gain a share of the lead with Mark Calcavecchia, Fuzzy Zoeller and Australia's Peter Senior.

On Friday all Faldo did was slay Royal St. George's to the tune of a course-record 63. The lead was his, by one shot.

That led to Saturday, when 15-knot winds made the already narrow St. George's fairways tighter than the streets of Sandwich, which are wide enough for a stroll by a uniformed linebacker but not two. On Saturday par was plenty. The field stayed pretty much pat: Faldo and Corey Pavin leading, Norman and Langer one back, Price three and Couples four.

All of which led to Sunday, which dawned dizzy with possibility. It was Faldo's 36th birthday, for one thing, and the forecast promised a monster storm, for another. As the leaders were about to begin, the storm hit. However, just as every top button was being buttoned and every "brelly" was blooming, just as the rains started to come and the Channel winds started to howl, and just as the leaders began having visions of 76 WINS OPEN, a funny thing happened.

It stopped.

Then the clouds even opened a few cracks. Apparently, even the gods wanted to see this. Within five minutes, what you had was your basic four-way, can't-be, goose-bumps superstar tie. Both Norman and Langer birdied the 1st hole to climb into a four-way tie with Faldo and Pavin at eight under par.

But Pavin would fall off with a bogey on number 1 and a few more along the way. He disappeared, despite committing no greater sin than shooting par. Par might have won Hartford, but here, today, it was good only for fourth place. Hard as he might try, Pavin is still the dread Best Player Never to Win a Major, the King of the B Movies.

Price, Daly and Couples all fell away, too, mostly from lack of oxygen. The rest of the way would be fought above the rim.

Birdies got cheap. Norman birdied the 3rd hole to take the lead. Faldo answered on number 2 to tie. Langer kept pace. The cups looked like uncovered manholes. Fans split pants trying to run from group to group. In fact, in the first nine holes the troika of Faldo, Norman and Langer made nine birdies. For your average Wayne Levi-weary golf writer, it was enough to induce lip trembling.

After a time, routine birdies weren't enough. It became necessary for the threesome to begin knocking down flag-sticks. Norman knocked it six inches from the hole on the par-4 9th and then buried his putt for a two-shot lead. Langer hit the wicket at number 10, another par-4. On the par-3 11th, Faldo hit what looked like the greatest hole in one in golf history, but the ball hit the cup and rolled away. Maybe that's when you knew that, at last, Norman's day of glory had come. Any other major Sunday, Faldo's ball stays in the jar.

Owing to air-traffic control, somebody had to fall from heights like these. It was Langer. Standing on the 14th tee, he sliced a driver over a simple white fence and onto the neighboring Prince's Golf Course, where Gene Sarazen had won the 1932 British Open and where Allied troops had trained before the invasion of Normandy. Where Langer's ball landed would have worked nicely in 1932, but 61 years later it was out-of-bounds. In a race like this, it was like stopping to tie your shoe. He would shoot 67 and finish third.

Now the tournament was down to two, Norman and Faldo, the two greatest figures in the game. The craving for vindication was all Norman's, for Faldo had become everything in golf Norman had ever wanted to be. Though two years younger, Faldo had five majors; Norman had only one, the British Open, seven long years ago. They had gone head-to-head in the third round at St. Andrews in 1990, and Faldo had embarrassed Norman 67 to 76 on the way to the second of his three British titles. They had been paired in the playoff of the Johnnie Walker Championship in Jamaica last Christmas, and Faldo had again won. Norman was Jerry Quarry to Faldo's Ali, and he had scars up and down his psyche to prove it.

If today was going to be different, Norman would have to do a complete and thorough check of his nerves. Hearing roars from Faldo's gallery behind him, he held steady. Needing a six-foot par-saving putt on number 11, he made it. Needing to chip close for birdie on number 14, he hit it to within six inches. Needing to save par on the 15th from 10 feet, he dunked it.

From across the green even Langer stopped to admire the show. "Today," he said, "Greg was invincible."

Almost. After a killer birdie at 16, set up by a five-iron that he hit to within 3½ feet, Norman stood on the 17th green and, for the first time all day, looked at a scoreboard. God, he thought as he saw his three-shot lead, you're going to win!

Now if there is one shark on this planet who should not be messing around with fate, it is this one. He promptly missed a 14-inch putt for par, a teensy-weensy little putt a toddler could have knocked in with a toy rake. But there it was. Rimmed. Uh-oh. That old sinking feeling was back. Tragedy was still lurking. He had blown a four-shot lead at the 1986 PGA at Inverness with nine holes to go. He had blown a one-stroke lead with two to go in the four-hole playoff at the 1989 British Open at Troon. He had blown leads at more than one Masters and U.S. Open. But blowing this would be absolutely lethal.

As he prepared to hit his tee shot in the deafening silence of the 18th tee box—maybe the biggest tee shot of his life—some wise guy in the crowd whistled Beethoven: da-da-da-dum. Norman set up sturdily, hammered the ball with his driver, stared again into the sun and watched the prettiest tee shot you ever saw.

Not that Norman was surprised. It was the 14th fairway he had hit in 14 tries on the day. And when he followed with a four-iron from 198 yards to within 18 feet of the pin, everybody in the place showed relief. "That was the greatest golf I've ever seen in my life," Langer said to Norman as they walked toward the growing roar at the final green. "You deserved to win."

Australian flags waved in the crowds. A huge inflatable shark bobbed up and down through the gallery. Somebody sang Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, and the birds off Pegwell Bay sang in harmony as the sun glinted off the white cliffs of Dover. Even heartbroken Faldo-loving Brits let themselves be joyous.

Only Norman himself would not. His face got stern, and he acted as if he'd done nothing more admirable than make out a neat grocery list. He signed his scorecard in the scoring trailer and stayed there, looking like the fifth face of Mount Rush-more. He had convinced himself that the worst could still happen, as it always had.

But at last it came, the news that miracles don't always happen. Television showed Faldo's final approach out of the rough fall exhausted, short of the green. Faldo looked spent. He woke up with a Sunday-morning lead, shot a brilliant 67 and lost by two. Anywhere else but here, on any day other than this one, Faldo is kissing the silver claret jug and wondering which half of Barbados he will buy.

But no. Suddenly freed, Norman sprang up. He went straight to Laura and hugged her, hugged his caddie, hugged his friends. Then he began shaking hands like a mayoral candidate. "This makes me feel so good," he said as he rode to a champagne party in a Rolls-Royce. "For myself, my friends, my family. They've seen what I've gone through, and they see what I want to achieve. I did that today."

When Norman shot 64 on the final day of the 1989 British Open, only to lose in a playoff, somebody asked him if fate owed him one. "Hell," said Norman, "fate owes me about four."

This wasn't four. But it was damn sure one and a half. This 64 was not much, really, only the lowest winning final round in British Open history, only the "best golf I've ever played," as Norman said, only a final round that will sit forever on a shelf alongside Ben Hogan's 67 at Oakland Hills, Arnold Palmer's 65 at Cherry Hills, Jack Nicklaus's 65 at Baltusrol and Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont. Get this: Only one man had ever finished under par at St. George's in a British Open, Bill Rogers in 1981 with a 276. Norman beat that by nine shots. Sarazen, a guest of the tournament, called it, "the greatest championship in my 70 years in golf."

Still, it's more than numbers. It's sweet redemption for a man who had more weight on his shoulders than the bottom man in a circus totem pole. It's a new handshake with the man in the mirror. No longer is Norman, as one British newspaper headline dubbed him, NEARLY MAN, the glass half full, the guy who won only half as many majors as Andy North. He is the Hero of Sandwich. It's never again being able to call Norman overrated.

"All week, everybody kept saying, 'Nick is the man to beat,' " Norman said. "Yes, he was. If I hadn't of beaten him, he'd have won."

About a par-5 from there, Faldo was explaining what went wrong for the last time. "Greg was always just a little bit out of my range," he said.

And, for once, out of his league.

PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINThough Norman landed in the hay more than once on Thursday, he was anything but a straw man. PHOTOJOHN IACONOIn spite of a 63 on Friday, Faldo found this year's British Open was no day at the beach. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINLanger shared the early lead on Sunday, but his 67 would be good enough only for third. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINSt. George's offered a Daly dose of trouble for those who missed its narrow fairways. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAfter seven snakebit years, Norman once again can take a bow at a major title.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)