Norman strikes first with 63 Record-tying round gives him Masters lead

April 12, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If Greg Norman keeps this up, it's going to take more than the resurrection of a legend or a miraculous wedge to keep him from wearing a green jacket.

In his last two tournaments, Norman missed the cut, but yesterday he "flicked a switch back on," and the best golfer in the world rematerialized. The result was a 63 in the first round of the Masters, which tied the course record and led to speculation about what revenge the pin placement committee might plot over the next three rounds.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 9," said Norman, who hadn't broken 70 in the first round at Augusta National Golf Course since his first Masters here in 1981. "When you get into the type of roll that I got into today, it feels very comfortable. Let the reins of the horse go and let him run as fast as he wants to run. That is what I did today.

"I wanted to get as much under par as I could. I didn't care if I got the lead or not. I want that situation."

Determined to prove that life in the American majors can begin at 41, Norman birdied six of the last seven holes, matching the back-nine 30 posted earlier in the day by Phil Mickelson. The Australian and the Arizonan, who was two strokes back with a 65, were the last pairing in today's second round.

Scott Hoch and Bob Tway, who are haunted by a missed putt and four lost years, respectively, followed with 67s. Lee Janzen was at 68, and Nick Faldo was one of five at 69. A total of 32 players broke par 72, including 59-year-old Tommy Aaron, but no one took better advantage of the still conditions than Norman.

He tied the course record established by Nick Price in the third round in 1986. It was the 18th score of 63 in a major, and Norman's is the only name to appear on that honor roll twice. Norman did it a decade ago, in the second round of the first of his two British Open titles.

That earlier 63 was sandwiched between the first two of his many major disappointments.

A decade ago here, Norman finished a stroke back in Jack Nicklaus' final Masters win. Later that year, Tway holed out of a trap on No. 18 to wrest the PGA title from Norman. Larry Mize chipped in on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff here the next year to beat Norman, who is still looking for his first major on American soil.

Norman wasn't concerned about his Masters chances after missing cuts at the Players Championship and the BellSouth Classic -- the first time that had happened since he joined the PGA tour in 1983 -- but did admit to feeling "inferior" in a practice round Tuesday, when amateur sensation Tiger Woods routinely out-drove him by 50 to 60 yards.

"This morning, I got everything back in sync," Norman said. "I mean, literally overnight, it came back. Yeah, I was hitting longer today."

Like most of the players here, Norman considers the front nine, the side unseen on television, to be more demanding. He was patient there, through missed chances on Nos. 3 and 5 and a sand save on No. 4, and was even through six holes before the birdies started dropping.

He made long putts for birdie on Nos. 7, 8 and 9, had another attempt burn the edge at No. 11, then let that horse he was talking about chase down Mickelson. The par-3 16th was the only one of the last seven holes Norman didn't birdie. Best of the bunch? How about No. 14, where Norman mis-hit his tee shot but put a 4-iron within three feet from 220 yards.

"The tee shot set it up," Norman joked.

Will Norman blow right past the barrier of an American major and threaten the Masters scoring record of 271, 17-under, set by Nicklaus in 1965 and tied by Ray Floyd in 1976?

"You obviously know you're not going to shoot four 63s," Norman said.

"It would be nice, but it would be a very tall order. I'm happy and excited, but there's a long way to go."

Norman's round stole the thunder from Mickelson, the tall left-hander who is looking for his first win east of the Rockies, let along his first major.

"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."

Mickelson has gotten better 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, who was in contention last year until he double bogeyed No. 6 on the final round.

Tway and Hoch were to precede them today.

Tway was the PGA Player of the Year in 1986, the year he won the PGA and four other tournaments. He had tour wins in 1989 and '90, but slumped so badly over the next four years that this is his first Masters since 1991.

Hoch doesn't have as many Masters nightmares as Norman, just a bigger one. He missed a two-footer on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff in 1989, and lost on the next hole to Faldo.

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