Greg Norman, more than anyone, knows that major championships aren’t won on Thursday.
More than anyone, the man who has finished second in a major eight times knows how much work he has ahead of him.
But perhaps more than anyone, Norman wants to win the 60th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
“Those two guys have something I want,” Norman said Wednesday night at a dinner where he was honored, looking at Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw and speaking about the green Masters jackets they’ve won.
“And I’m going to go get it.”
He took a dramatic step in that direction in the first round, shooting a 9-under-par 63, two strokes better than Phil Mickelson and four better than Bob Tway and Scott Hoch.
For all the times Norman’s greatness had been denied in a major championship, especially at Augusta where he has finished in the top six seven times but never won, golf’s greatest money winner was for one day golf’s greatest player.
Norman’s round, the fourth 9-under round in the history of all the majors, was an overwhelming effort on a lightning-fast course.
It started normally enough with six consecutive pars. Then the awesome talent that has astounded, baffled, amazed and confused a generation of golf fans kicked in. Closing with nine birdies in the last 12 holes, Norman tied the major-championship record with his 63.
“When you get into that type of roll like I got into today, you just decide to let the reins loose and let the horse run,” Norman said.
Run they did. Birdie putts of 10 feet, 10 feet and 14 feet to close the front nine in 33. After pars on Nos. 10 and 11 - a bunker save on 10 that he almost holed - Norman birdied Nos. 12-15, making two-putt birdies on both the par 5s.
He tied the course record set in 1986 by Nick Price with a 10-foot birdie putt on 17. A 24-footer on the final hole closed the back nine in 30.
“This was one of my handful of great rounds,” Norman said after posting only the 18th 63 in major championship history and the fourth on a par-72 course.
It was a crushing performance that made a great round by Mickelson look almost ordinary. The 65 by the 25-year-old left-hander looking for his first major championship was posted as Norman was finishing the front nine.
The savvy round showed how much he has learned about the course.
“The really difficult thing about this tournament, this golf course and these greens,” Mickelson said, “is we don’t really see anything like it ever, except this one week of the year.”
As always, position was the key.
“I had a lot of putts from underneath the hole on the back nine and was able to go at them,” Mickelson said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this fast,” he said about the greens. “But they gave us pin placements we could go at.”
The back nine, with its two par-5s reachable in two, was the easier side. The 30s by Norman and Mickelson were a stroke off the record 29 shot by Mark Calcavecchia in the final round of 1992.
Tway shot a 31 on the back and Hoch a 32 as they finished at 67. Lee Janzen, alone in fifth place at 68, had a 33 on the back side.
Crenshaw, the defending champion, shot a 77, while six-time winner Jack Nicklaus had a 70.
Mickelson has improved every year at the Masters, finishing 46th, 34th and then seventh last year, when his 66 led after the first round.
“I’ve had pretty much an experience on every hole that has hurt me,” said Mickelson, in contention last year until he double-bogeyed No. 6 on the final round. But from every mistake he has gleaned knowledge.
For instance, on some shots, you don’t want spin. On others, you do.
The importance of being able to hit the ball without spin at Augusta was shown on No. 9 when Tiger Woods, the 20-year-old Stanford sophomore, who shot a 75, hit a sand wedge that landed 15 feet short of the flag. The ball took one bounce, then slid down the slope and settled 20 yards off the green, resulting in a bogey.
In many ways, Norman and Mickelson are mirror images, one hitting from the right side, one from the left, both enormously gifted with something to prove at the Masters.
They could be setting up one great weekend of golf.
xxxx Masters leaders Greg Norman 33-30-63 Phil Mickelson 35-30-65 Scott Hoch 35-32-67 Bob Tway 36-31-67 Lee Janzen 35-33-68 David Gilford 34-35-69 Brad Faxon 34-35-69 Nick Faldo 34-35-69 Scott Simpson 35-34-69 Vijay Singh 34-35-69
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