Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PERTH, Australia (AP) Confident he can still be competitive at the majors after his stunning British Open performance last year, Greg Norman is using the Johnnie Walker Classic this week to start fine-tuning for his 23rd trip to the Masters.

The 54-year-old Norman led the British Open at Royal Birkdale by two strokes after three rounds last July and finished in a tie for third place. That was good enough to earn an invitation to the Masters in April.

He last played the Masters in 2002. His most famous run at Augusta National was six years before that, when he lost to Nick Faldo after holding a six-stroke lead going into the final round.

``I've had some great experiences there and I've had some bad experiences there, but at the same time it all neutralizes over my whole career there,'' Norman said Wednesday.

He's aiming to make the cut this year, saying experience allows him a mature approach.

``I've always been a believer: Age is really not anything but a number, as long as you keep yourself in good shape,'' he said. ``That's why I don't really need to be like a 21-year-old or an 18-year-old thinking about (the Masters) months and months and months in advance.''

Norman, who won the 1994 Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand, will tee off in a group with No. 9-ranked Camilo Villegas and No. 12 Lee Westwood when the tournament, co-sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian tours, starts Thursday at The Vines.

American Anthony Kim is skipping a tournament in California to get a feel for the European Tour, while India's Shiv Kapur and China's Liang Wenchong are among the leading candidates to be the first Asian Tour player to win the tournament that started in 1990 at Hong Kong.

Norman said he was serious about joining Tiger Woods and Faldo as two-time winners of the Johnnie Walker.

``If I come and play a golf tournament, I'm going to give it my best shot,'' he said. ``I always stay focused in what's happening right now. If I start thinking about what's going to happen in five weeks from now or six weeks, then I'm not preparing myself.''

Kim is using the tournament as a launching pad for The Race to Dubai, the European Tour's lucrative season-long championship that replaces the order of merit.

The 23-year-old Kim thinks its important for American players to experience golf outside of the U.S. PGA Tour.

``It was a tough decision,'' to skip the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, he said. ``But I want to be a global player and I feel like I'm in The Race to Dubai now.

``It (The Race to Dubai) is definitely going to bring some more players over here ... So it's definitely going to make The European Tour stronger.''

The Race to Dubai includes 51 tournaments and culminates with the top 60 money earners qualifying for the $10 million Dubai World Championship in November.

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