TROON, Scotland (AP) — Greg Norman used last week’s British Open as a warmup and almost made history. The warmup over, he is now setting his sights on the Senior British Open.
Leading the tournament at Royal Birkdale with nine holes to play, the 53-year-old Australian was on course to become the oldest winner of a major, but finished six shots behind Padraig Harrington in a tie for third.
“Now, my expectations are good,” Norman said Wednesday. “I like the golf course. Remember my comment last week: ‘I was using the British Open for a warmup to the British Senior Open’ – should have been the other way round.
“So now I’ve warmed up, basically. OK, so now I’ve got to step up and, hopefully, I can do that over the next four or five days.”
Norman shot a four-over 75 at Troon on Thursday, which put him seven shots behind the early leader, Bruce Vaughan, who is at three under.
He was in the same group Thursday, and will be again on Friday, with Tom Watson (70), winner of five Opens and three of the past five Senior British Opens, and Sandy Lyle (75) as he bids for his first seniors title.
Lyle also has an Open title, as well as the 1988 Masters, but he was lambasted by the media at Royal Birkdale last week when he walked off the course after completing half of the opening round at 11 over.
Because of his various business interests, plus playing tennis for fun with new wife Chris Evert, Norman picks and chooses his seniors events and this is just his fourth. He finished third at this tournament three years ago at Royal Aberdeen, and tied for sixth at this year’s Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill, Rochester.
Norman said he shouldn’t have any problems coming back from Sunday’s letdown, where he led into the final round by two strokes yet knew the title was gone when he walked up to the 17th green at Birkdale.
As Norman and Harrington walked up the 18th to receive a standing ovation, he let the Irishman – about to win the title for the second year in a row – have the spotlight.
“I had to respect Padraig and the situation,” Norman said. “You had to let him absorb the moment.”
But the Australian who has had tough defeats in majors before – most notably in the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo – still felt the pain of losing.
“Yeah, it hurts. Deep down inside, it hurts, no question,” he said. “When you’re a sportsman in the arena, no matter how old or how young you are, and you give yourself an opportunity and it doesn’t eventuate, you do feel it.
“I’m a human being too and I love to play the game.”
Norman said he has different priorities now compared with when he was the world’s top player in the days before Tiger Woods. But he still wants to do well on the golf course without the routine of daily practice.
“It’s totally different nowadays with your expectations then when you are the No. 1 and people expect you to perform,” he said. “Nowadays, my practice routine and my happiness and where I want to be in my life, it’s totally different for me.
“So I can waltz in there like (I did) at Birkdale and I can be realistically honest with myself. Deep down inside, do you want to perform well. Always, you want to perform well.”
Lyle will be happy if he can just complete the first two rounds.
The Scot on Wednesday explained his early exit from the Open last week, saying a sore and numb left hand forced him to retire after just 10 holes.
“Last week was not a thing I like to do on a regular basis. But you’ll know from talking to my previous caddies I’ve had sore hands and knuckles for a couple of years now. … I was playing with a sort of numb knuckle in my left hand and I couldn’t let it continue.”
Apart from Watson and Lyle, Norman has familiar rivals who have won tournaments this year.
Seniors newcomers Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer have each won two events. But Jay Haas, who won his second Senior PGA title in three years, has pulled out after the death of his sister-in-law.
Watson also has a Champions Tour victory this season and could complete his third Open double. He has won both the Open and Seniors Open at Turnberry and Muirfield, and another of his five Open triumphs was at Troon in 1982.
“It doesn’t look like they’re taking much pity on us old people as far as the length of the golf course is concerned,” Watson said of the 7,064-yard, par-71 links course that will have most of the same tee placements as for the Open.
“It’s going to be a very long and difficult golf course at Troon here.”