Published: 00:00, 10 July 2003
| Updated: 11:04, 10 July 2003
GREG Norman is guaranteed a rousing welcome at The Open at Sandwich, rivalling the reception Tiger Woods is certain to receive when the American steps out on the golden links course.
The Great White Shark will be back competing at Royal St George's for one of golf's top titles between July 17-20.
Norman, winner of the The Open at Turnberry in 1986 and, more memorably, in 1993 on the last occasion Royal St George’s hosted the tournament, has produced more thrills and spills than arguably any other golfer in history.
Who will forget the 1996 US Masters when the Norman led Nick Faldo by six strokes and was on the brink of winning the tournament when his world fell apart?
A deathly hush fell over Augusta National as the crowds witnessed one of the most spectacular collapses ever seen. Norman’s game went to pieces and when, on the final green, Faldo sunk a birdie putt to win by five strokes, his celebration was mute.
Embracing the broken Australian, Faldo said sympathetically: “I don’t know what to say. I just want to give you a hug. I feel horrible about what happened.”
Measure that moment of disaster with Norman’s triumph in the 122nd Open at Sandwich three years earlier, the second of his two triumphs in the world’s oldest professional event.
Faldo, winner of the 1992 Open, topped the leaderboard again after 54 holes of the 1993 Open.
He led his great rival Norman by one shot with Langer, Price, Els, Couples and Stewart in contention. But Norman emerged winner of the dual in the sand dunes, firing 64 in the final round to beat Faldo by two shots. That final explosive round will be remembered as perhaps his best ever round as his clinical hitting destroyed the field.
He is one of sport’s most tragic figures, having been cruelly denied major tournament success perhaps more times than any other player in golf history.
On eight occasions, Norman has finished runner-up at a major. Yet, through all the freak collapses, he has remained a dignified symbol of good sportsmanship.
He said once: “Golf is one of those frustrating games because even when you shoot 64, you feel you should have shot 62. I’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”
Victory in the Open at Turnberry 17 year ago was his first major and one of 80 titles clinched worldwide by the 48-year-old golfing legend.
His massive business empire means that Norman does not play so much tournament golf nowadays, but he insists that he can still be competitive.
“I think if your heart is in the game, no matter how long you’ve been away, you should be able to step up to the plate and compete,” he said.
Nick Faldo, Britain’s most successful golfer, will celebrate his 46th birthday on the second day of the championship.
His record in recent years would suggest the winner of six major titles has little chance of emulating the captivating form that led to three British Open victories in 1987, 1990 and 1992, but the old master has found his touch again of late and can still produce moments of magic.