SOUTHPORT, England -- For all its boring but necessary requisites--one shot at a time, one round at a time--golf can pull a great surprise party every once in a while.
Just when many people were worried that a major championship without Tiger Woods was going to feel as bleak as a cold British beach between dry spells, the marquee brightened.
They were 10 deep along the dunes on Royal Birkdale's back nine on a dreary Friday morning, adults old enough to remember, children too young to know. For them all, for the second day in a row, Greg Norman gave them something to remember.
Norman didn't win as many major championships in his prime as many people thought he should have. Now, when no one expected him even to threaten the lead in the British Open, he is in superb position at the halfway point to pull off a historic victory.
Julius Boros was 48 years, fourth months and 18 days old when he won the 1968 PGA Championship and remains the oldest winner of a major championship. Norman is 53, playing like he's 35, invigorating the Open with the kind of texture that only a great run by a former great can provide.
Not since Tom Watson at the 2003 U.S. Open has a senior golfer created so much excitement at a major. Watson faded from contention that year at Olympia Fields after his emotional first-round 65 in the company of his dying caddie and friend Bruce Edwards. But thanks to fantastic scrambling, Norman shot his second consecutive 70 to take the clubhouse lead by one over the young Colombian, Camilo Villegas.
It makes you think of when Jack Nicklaus challenged at the 1998 Masters when he was 58 a dozen years after winning a green jacket when he was 46. "Forty-six and 53," Norman said, "there's not much difference in age right there."
Norman could have let things slip away down the stretch Friday, but he didn't. He saved par with an eight-footer at the 11th and with a seven-footer at the 16th after a fantastic sand shot from an awkward stance. A 12-footer at the par-5 17th salvaged a bogey. At the 18th, he ran a long birdie putt past the hole and off the green but sank the 20-footer for a par.
Ladbrokes had him as a 200-to-1 longshot before the tournament began. But the oddsmakers didn't know how good he was feeling about himself, about his life in the wake of recent marriage to former tennis great Chris Evert. "My life is great," he said. "I've got a wonderful wife and my whole being . . . is just wonderful, to tell you the truth. So obviously it makes you feel more relaxed, makes you feel more comfortable about what you're doing and where you are."
The odds are still long that Norman could take this sweet surprise all the way to Sunday evening, to a claret jug he has won twice, but stranger things have happened. The golf gods ripped a few majors from his hands. Maybe they're in a generous mood this week. So far, he is doing his part.
--*Bill Fields *