Greg Norman celebrated his 54th birthday on Tuesday by preparing for his 23rd Masters. The Shark worked on his game at Old Palm GC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fl., then drove home to Boca Raton for, "a workout, a Greg Norman Wagyu steak and whatever," Norman said with a big grin. With Augusta just two months away, Norman has ramped up his preparation -- which officially began Dec. 1 -- for his first Masters since 2002.
"I'm having a great time getting ready, but I must admit that after not working out the same as the way I did when I was at the top of my game, it has kicked my arse for the first four weeks," he said in an e-mail last week. "I have some equilibrium now and NOW realize how much effort it took and the price you have to pay to be in golf condition and shape."
Norman had seriously considered playing this week's Allianz Championship on the Champions Tour, which is close to the home he shares with bride Chris Evert, and went as far as playing a practice round on the Old Course at Broken Sound. But in the end a family commitment on Chris' side of the family changed Norman's schedule, so he instead will head to Perth, Australia this weekend to make his 2009 tournament debut in the for the Johnnie Walker Classic, Feb. 19-22.
Charting a new course: Ernie Els looked refreshed and reset for a new year when he arrived at PGA National on Thursday morning for a media day celebrating his victory in the 2008 Honda Classic. Based at The Bears Club in Jupiter, with his children in school and family settled, the South African is looking to a big 2009.
His call at the end of last year to bring sports psychologist Bob Rotella back to his team was a big part of that. They worked together, but only briefly during and after Els' victory last March on the Champion course. "I've been saying for such a long time I'm not that far off," Els said. "I just have to break through that little barrier that's holding me up. I think Bob will help me with that."
Els was not 100 percent sure whether he was heading to Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open, but was looking forward to his title defense at PGA and a fund-raiser for autism he's hosting at the resort in March, spearheaded by Cigar Aficionado publisher Marvin Shanken. As most who follow golf are aware, Els made the move to Palm Beach County so his son, Ben, could receive treatment for autism.
Preparation pays off: Nick Watney may seem like an outside-the-box candidate for the Presidents Cup team, but Freddie Couples already had his eye on the shy 27-year-old Northern Californian through his relationships with swing instructor Butch Harmon and one of Watney's mentors from Fresno, Sam Reeves. Although he started the year ranked 204th on the World Rankings, Watney put the Presidents Cup on his list of goals as he worked diligently at Harmon's golf school near his home in Las Vegas for six-straight weeks.
"He didn't miss a day," said Harmon. Harmon's coaching carried through to a conversation Sunday morning by telling his pupil to channel Tiger Woods, especially the way he slows down his walk and breathes deliberately when the pressure tightens—as it did when Watney birdied 16 on Sunday at Torrey Pines to grab a share of the Buick Invitational lead. Watney birdied the 18th like Tiger, using his new weaker left-hand grip to hold a hybrid safely on the green and setting up a two-putt for the win. As soon as it was over, Harmon received text messages from Couples, Adam Scott and Natalie Gulbis. "Everyone was saying how great it is this kid won," Harmon said. "He's such a great kid. He always says thank you."
Medical report: It turns out U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate didn't have an infection as reported but a horrible case of the flu. Now Mediate has ambitious hopes to play in next week's Northern Trust Open. Mediate had surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee last week in Santa Monica, Ca. He has been on antibiotics and unable to eat for a week. "The knee feels really good, there's no infection," Mediate said Tuesday. "I had this flu and fever that you would not believe. I don't know where I got it, but it's not from the surgery." Mediate hopes to hit balls later this week and be ready for Riviera CC. His surgeon already gave him the go with a warning that it will probably require draining after every round. "The Riv's my favorite course on tour," Mediate said. "It's only five minutes from my house and if I'm not ready, I'll just pull out."
Sibling rivalry: The Thompson Family of Coral Springs, Fl., became early front-runners for First Family of Golf in 2009, when Alexis, the prodigy who turned 14 on Feb. 10 (the same birthday as Norman's), and 16 year-old Curtis, held first-place trophies in the Junior Verizon Heritage last weekend at Harbour Town Golf Links. Older brother Nicholas better pick it up, after finishing T-17 at the Buick Invitational. Alexis, who just received an invitation to the Kraft Nabisco, won The Sally by 13 strokes and cruised through the Doherty Cup. She celebrated her birthday by playing in the Junior Allianz Pro-Am with Chip Beck and enjoying a dinner with her family. Nicholas outfitted her with some new accessories, the favorite being a Puma golf belt she had been eyeing.
Altered appearance: You may have noticed Padraig Harrington sporting a couple of new looks last week at Torrey Pines. The reigning British Open and PGA champion's was sporting two band-aids on his face after having two non-cancerous skin lesions removed. The FTI logo on his baseball hat is not a new line of clubs by Wilson, but a company (Financial Technical Investigation Consulting) that invested in one of the most prominent pieces of real estate in golf -- the billboard of a double-major champion. As Harrington explained, it's a firm that has particular relevance these days. "They're closing out Enron, they're closing out the derivative positions for Lehman Brothers," Harrington explained. "They're actually on both sides. They do investigation for the BALCO case and things like that."
Keep an eye on: A good sleeper pick for the upcoming WGC-Accenture Match Play, at least when it comes to a trending player who could advance through a couple of rounds, is Mathew Goggin. The Australian has risen to 52nd in the world, based on six top-six results in his last nine events, including a pair of runner-up finishes in the Australian PGA and Open at the end of last year, and a solo sixth in the Buick Invitational. If the current rankings hold, Goggin would play out of the Hogan bracket and face Ernie Els in his opening-round match. Hailing from the island of Tasmania, Goggin comes from one of the most decorated sports families in Australia: His uncle, Bill, is a Hall of Fame Australian Rules Footballer for the Geelong Cats; his father, Charlie, is one of the top horse breeders in Australia; and his mother, Lindy, is one of the most decorated female amateur golfers in Australia.