POTOMAC -- Hal Sutton and Greg Norman share something other than a very high tax bracket. Each, at a different time in his career on the PGA Tour, has been handed a huge albatross to carry in his golf bag.
The next Nicklaus, each was called.
It happened to Sutton in his second season on tour, when he held off Nicklaus to win the 1983 PGA Championship and later finished on top of the money list. It happened to Norman three years later, when he won the British Open.
Neither turned out to be a Bear-apparent.
"To put expectations on someone else is not fair, as far as being the next Nicklaus," Sutton said earlier this week at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel. "It wears you down, because not only do you want to live up to everybody else's standards, but you want to live up to your own."
Sutton, who hasn't won a tour event since 1986, put up his own standard yesterday at the $1 million Kemper Open. With a 6-under-par 65, Sutton set a two-round tournament record of 11-under 131 and took a one-shot lead into today's third round.
Norman, who recently returned from a five-week hiatus and is playing Avenel for the first time in four years, also shot 65 and was at 10-under 132. He is tied with Billy Andrade, one of two players to equal the tournament course record with a 7-under 64. First-round co-leader Bob Gilder (68) was two shots behind, tied with left-hander Russ Cochran (65).
"You can lose the tournament [today], but you can't win it," said Sutton.
If Sutton can hold on, it won't be the first time in its short life that Avenel has resurrected a career. Morris Hatalsky hadn't won in five years when he beat Tom Kite here in sudden death three years ago. Gil Morgan hadn't won in seven years until coming here last year.
If it is Sutton's turn to win again, he doesn't sound supremely confident.
"I think that saying my career was in a rut is a kind way of putting it," said Sutton, 33, ranked 53rd on the money list.
One reason was putting. After a horrendous start this season, Sutton began playing better last month in Dallas, when he switched to a cross-handed grip. Yesterday, Sutton made a pair of 15-footers for birdies and a 30-footer for eagle on the 479-yard, par-5 sixth hole.
Though hardly in decline, Norman was at least in a slump coming into the Kemper. He said earlier this week that burnout had led to his decision to take a prolonged break after missing the cut at the Masters. His comeback has begun at a course he once professed to abhor.
But, apparently, Norman has made his peace with Avenel. After ripping the course after the final round in 1987, Norman nearly ripped it apart yesterday. Only a late bogey prevented him sharing the lead with Sutton. Will it last?
"When you're playing well, it's not going to disappear overnight," said Norman. "Unless something happens to you overnight."
Something has happened to Norman this week. He is starting to resemble the golfer who terrorized the tour for most of the past five years. Starting out on the back nine yesterday, Norman strung together four straight birdies (at 12, 13, 14 and 15) before three-putting for bogey at 17. He then birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 6 to take the lead.
After Sutton closed out his round with a birdie on No. 9, Norman put his drive at No. 7 into a fairway bunker. With his ball in what he called "a scuzzy lie," Norman hit into the rough below the green and made a six-footer for par.
"I was disappointed by making the bogey," he said. "But things are looking good for the weekend."
Considering those in contention, Norman's chances of ending a yearlong victory drought are looking better.
Aside from Sutton, whose name has been bigger than his game for several years now, few within four shots of the lead evoke any great fear other than Norman. Andrade hasn't won in four years on tour. Cochran hasn't won in more than eight years. Gilder hasn't won since 1983.
"Greg's a good player, but he doesn't scare me," said Gilder. "I don't think there are too many players who scare other players like Nicklaus and [Tom] Watson did in their prime."
For now, Norman is excited about just being in the hunt or, as he aptly called it, "the heat."
"It's been awhile since I teed off late on Saturday," Norman said.