SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND -- Greg Norman loves Royal Birkdale ("I think the golf course is about the fairest and toughest I've ever seen," he said), and in turn it loved him back Thursday. The two-time British Open champion, who is sighted as often on tour these days as a 1-iron, turned back the clock with an even-par 70 to finish the first round one stroke out of the lead. Not that the 53-year-old is envisioning his hands on the claret jug Sunday evening just yet.
"I've got to keep my expectations realistically low, to be honest with you," Norman said afterward. "I haven't played a lot of golf. Even though [television announcer] Judy Rankin and I talked about it going down 13, it's just like riding a bike. But even riding a bike sometimes after a long time [off] you're a little wobbly. I've just got to manage the process the best I can."
Norman, who won Open titles at Turnberry in 1986 and Royal St. George's in 1993, hasn't played in the championship since 2005 at St. Andrews. He has played very sparingly the last few years while dealing with injuries and being content to manage his busy business empire. He missed the cut in his three PGA Tour events in 2008 but was T-6 at the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May.
"He was very much in control today," said his caddie, Lyn Strickler. "There isn't too much rust there, and he is one of the most competitive guys you'll ever want to meet."
That competitive fire, along with the talent that made him one of the best of his time, was evident Thursday, and Norman was inspired by the setting. "Coming down 18 after 5 and a half hours of golf, the way the people receive you, you don't get that anywhere else in the world," Norman said. "It's a phenomenal experience. It gives you a little more juice than what you normally would have."