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Return of the Shark: the Final Episode

Golf: Five weeks after undergoing hip surgery, 45-year-old Greg Norman has rejoined the PGA tour two weeks ahead of schedule. He's a man in a hurry and hopes to acquire a new lease on life.


Greg Norman says he has a new lease on life. It might also be his last one.

Five weeks-plus after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, Norman returned to competition Thursday in The International, and was tied for eighth place at +12 after the first round. The tournament is one of 75 tournaments he has won around the world in a career that covers 25 years.

The goal was for the Shark to recover in time for the PGA Championship. He is two weeks ahead of schedule, which is just as well.

"Time is not on my side," he said on the day before surgery.

Forgive Norman if he is in a hurry.

He turned 45 in February, an age when most players start looking ahead to the Senior Tour or the broadcast booth. Neither interests Norman. He already is busy designing courses, bottling wine, inventing turf grass, marketing clothes, distributing golf clubs and posting video of his hip surgery on

And after rehabilitation at warp speed, he once again has carved out time to pound balls on the range.

So much to do, so little time.

In April, before he realized his right hip was the root of his discomfort, Norman figured he had a fighting chance in the next eight majors. Now, he is talking about going hard for the next 10 years--even taking on Tiger Woods.

"I'd love to be part of that rivalry," he said. "I know there's a huge gap in age, but there was a 15-year age difference between me and Jack Nicklaus when I joined the tour, and we competed."

Indeed they did. In their last encounter, a 46-year-old Nicklaus shot a 31 on the back nine, overcame a four-stroke deficit against Norman and won his sixth Masters. So, whatever misery Norman endured from that loss might actually become motivation.

It can be done.

Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open when he was 45. Julius Boros became the oldest player to win a major, the '68 PGA Championship, when he was 48. And in an era long before ab crunches were all the rage, Old Tom Morris won the British Open at 46.

If Norman really has the body of a 20-year-old (his doctor said that), there should be no reason why he can't compete with Woods, contend in majors, be fit enough to hoist a trophy.

He is not that old that he has forgotten what it is like to launch drives 300 yards or more. He still remembers the days when he stood on the first tee and wondered who was going to finish second. Woods is 21 years younger and has twice as many majors, but Norman sees some similarities.

"I know when you play at that level, intimidation is a wonderful, silent tool to use," he said. "I've had it. When I'm up against it, it won't be a factor."

Now if he can only remember how to win.

Norman has to count back three years to locate his last PGA Tour victory--the World Series of Golf at Firestone. His last win anywhere was the Holden International in Australia on Feb. 8, 1998.

Since then, he been in operating rooms almost as often as he's been in contention.

First came shoulder surgery after the '98 Masters, followed by seven months of rehab and questions about whether he still had the desire. Norman answered that when he nearly won the '99 Masters, and probably should have won his third British Open.

This June, after a humbling 82 in the second round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Norman discovered a torn labrum in his right hip, which probably caused his shoulder problems in the first place.

"Once the surgery is done, it's 100% repaired," he said. "It's a new lease on life. This is going to make me more excited to go back and play."

With a rebuilt shoulder and a repaired hip, Norman finally has a clean bill of health. What he no longer has are excuses.

Norman doesn't need the money, just the hardware.

At stake is his place in history, although his losses always seem to outweigh his gains. Not many have played at such a high level for such a long time.

From 1976 to 1998, Norman won at least one tournament every year but 1991. He has led the money list on both sides of the Atlantic, had the best scoring average on the PGA Tour five times and has wielded such influence that the game now has a lucrative World Golf Championship series.

Still, he might better be remembered for winning the "Saturday Slam" in 1986, the year he led all four majors after the third round and walked off with only a silver claret jug. He is the only man to lose all four majors in a playoff.

Norman needs another major to validate him as one of the best. Any victory at this stage in his career would certify him as one of the greatest competitors.

It all started last week with "The Return of the Shark: The Final Episode."


On the Web: PGA; Greg Norman

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