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THE BRITISH OPEN : Shark Gets His Teeth Into Turnberry for a 63 and 2-Shot Lead

July 19, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY | Times Staff Writer

TURNBERRY, Scotland — Greg Norman said: "At 17, I told myself: 'We can shoot 60 here today.' "

Shoot 60?

At the British Open?

At Turnberry? The south-of-Loch Ness monster?

Sure thing. And in his next start for the Red Sox, Roger Clemens is going to strike out 28. At the next Indy 500, Bobby Rahal is going to hit 250 m.p.h. At the next Olympics, Carl Lewis is going to run the hundred in 8.9.

The thing is, though, Norman really did have a crack at it. He just missed an eagle putt at 17. Then he three-putted at 18. Even so, the Australian's seven-under-par 63 Friday tied the course and British Open records and also left him leader of the pack by two shots with a 137, three under par, after two rounds.

Turnberry finally turned pliable. And playable. After Thursday's nasty opening round, in which 48 of the world's greatest golfers shot 80 or worse, Friday's relative calm inspired 15 scores in the 60s.

Including one by someone who played as though he intended to break 60.

The man they call Shark said later: "I'm not a record hunter. But I'd like to shoot my 62 on Sunday."

Nine non-Americans, led by Norman, were atop the leader board. Second place belonged to Gordon J. Brand, a Scottish-born Englishman. Then came natives of Japan, England, West Germany, Wales, Sweden, New Zealand and Spain. Welcome to the real world series of golf.

Six U.S. tourists finally showed up at 145, eight shots off Norman's pace: Raymond Floyd, Donnie Hammond, Gary Koch, Payne Stewart, Bob Tway and D.A. Weibring, whose initials, when you ask him, stand for Don't Ask.

Jack Nicklaus? Severiano Ballesteros? Lee Trevino? Defending champion Sandy Lyle? Yes, they made the cut. They made it by the hair of their head covers, exactly at the cutoff point of 151.

Nicklaus needed to eagle the 17th hole, for the second straight day, to keep from checking out of his hotel.

"I've missed more short putts over here than I've missed in the last four months," the frustrated Masters champion said.

Turnberry did not become a pussycat, exactly. There were still some big scores, and some big-time golfers who missed the cut, Tom Kite, Johnny Miller, Jim Thorpe and Corey Pavin among them. Old soldier Deane Beman also faded away, and even a hole-in-one didn't save a young Englishman named Andrew Oldcorn.

But Tommy Nakajima of Japan solved Turnberry for a 67--he had nine straight one-putt greens--and pulled into a tie with England's Nick Faldo for third place at 141. U.S. Open champion Floyd also shot a 67, shaving 11 strokes off his previous day's score.

Partnered with Norman, though, Floyd almost played unnoticed. The Shark put together one of the great rounds ever in one of the majors--or anywhere else, for that matter, seeing as how he got his 63 on a course that has more booby traps than a mine field.

There have been 10 such scores in major championships, dating as far back as Johnny Miller's stunner at Oakmont in the 1973 U.S. Open to one as recent as Nick Price's at this year's Masters. The British Open had had two 63s previously: Mark Hayes' on this course in 1977 and Isao Aoki's at Muirfield in 1980.

But this one--wow! What a piece of work.

"It was wonderful to play with Greg going for the record," Floyd said. "This could be Greg's year for the Open after going so close in the U.S. and the Masters."

Norman led both those affairs after three rounds. He has long been a runner-up. But with the possible exception of Ballesteros, it has been pretty clear in recent times that there is no better golfer on Earth.

Had a couple of putts plopped, the Shark would have posted a back-nine score of 29. He was only 18 feet from an eagle on the 17th, but the downhill putt just slid by on the left. At the 18th, Norman lagged from about 28 feet, then ran a five-footer just past.

"I totally misjudged the speed of the putt," he said of the last one.

His 63 here was more impressive than Hayes' in 1977, because at that time, Turnberry was in the middle of a warm, dry spell. Besides, hole No. 5 is now 30 yards longer, and No. 12 is 57 yards longer. Friday, Norman bogeyed one, parred the other.

By the end of his round, he had become Scotland's platinum-headed Pied Piper, leading long trains of spectators from hole to hole. "There seemed to be 15,000 of 16,000 people following us," Norman said.

"At 17, it got so quiet when I began to putt, I could hear a pin drop. It was spooky. It seemed like there was nobody else on the golf course. It was deadly quiet. Eerie, even."

Unfortunately, it was not quiet enough to hear a putt drop. Norman missed.

He appreciated the crowd support. When someone brought up his recent experience with an American crowd, the heckling he received in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, Norman said: "You're talking about New York, not America. Everybody outside of New York appreciates good golf. Somebody should send (New Yorkers) a book on how to be a spectator."

These fans pumped Norman up. The hard part was not getting too pumped up.

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