Newlywed Greg Norman was setting the pace at the British Open yesterday.
The 53-year-old Norman, a two-time British Open winner who married former tennis great Chris Evert last month, birdied three holes on the front side to offset a double-bogey at the gargantuan sixth, leaving him as the only player with an overall score in the red.
Norman was 1 under as he made the turn, one stroke ahead of unheralded Englishman Simon Wakefield, who holed a bunker shot at the first green. Thirteen others were within three shots of the leader, with a host of top players still hours away from teeing off and hoping to avoid the cold, soaking rain and howling winds that made life miserable for the early starters on Thursday.
Jean Van de Velde, best remembered for his epic 72nd-hole collapse at Carnoustie nine years ago, briefly surged into contention, only to get swallowed up by this links course along the Irish Sea. He played the front side at 2-under 32, then fell back with a couple of double-bogeys on the back side.
Van de Velde finished with a 1-over 71, leaving him with a 4-over 144 at the midway point of golf’s oldest major.
The focus was again on the weather for day two of golf’s oldest major, with the early starters racing to get in as many holes as possible before another expected round of storms swept in. The forecast called for potentially heavy showers throughout the day on top of an ever-more-menacing wind, a possible repeat of Thursday morning.
Norman, who shot a par 70 in the opening round, birdied the very first hole but ran into trouble at No. 6, the 499-yard layout that’s listed as a par 4 for some reason. He knocked his second shot into the thick rough right of the fairway — near the spot where Phil Mickelson lost a ball the previous day — and hacked out short of the green. A chip and two putts later, he walked off with a 6.
But Norman, cheered on by his new wife, former tennis great Chris Evert, bounced right back. He rolled in a 25-foot birdie at the seventh, then watched a 15-footer at No. 8 curl slowly toward the cup and drop in on the very last turn, raising his putter in the air to celebrate.
The first-round leaders — Rocco Mediate of the US, Australia’s Robert Allenby and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland shared the top spot after shooting 69 — failed to keep pace with Norman.
Mediate, a playoff loser at the US Open, was even for the day through 10 holes, but fell three strokes behind Norman with a double-bogey at No. 11 and a bogey at the par-3 14th.
Allenby was four back, starting his round with two straight bogeys and taking two more before he made the turn. McDowell also was at 3 over, playing the front nine at 2 over and starting the back with two straight bogeys.
Sergio Garcia, looking to bounce back from a devastating playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at last year’s Open, missed a 3-footer to save par at the first but wasn’t thinking about that when he rolled in a 75-foot birdie at No. 4. The Spaniard was three strokes behind Norman.
Van de Velde was playing the Open for the first time since 2005, and just the second time in the past seven years. But he’s still haunted by the ghost of Carnoustie, where he went to the final hole of regulation with a three-stroke lead, only to recklessly throw it away by trying to finish off his first major title with a flourish.
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