Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Turning Back the Clock

Even though the 137th Open Championship -- they just hate it when we Americans call it the British Open -- was last weekend, Greg Norman's performance still resonates.

The more short-sighted among us will point to his turning a one-shot lead into a six-shot defeat and call Norman a choker -- again. They'll invoke memories of Augusta in 1996, when Norman turned a six-shot advantage to a five-shot loss to Nick Faldo in The Masters.

But anyone who really knows golf, someone who studies and follows the game with or without a certain guy named after a cat, understands this isn't the Great Augusta Gag. No, Norman's British Open loss, while disappointing, was merely age finally catching up with The Shark.

Don't forget: Norman is 53. He only played in the Open Championship to prepare for this week's Senior British Open at Royal Troon. For The Shark, Royal Birkdale was nothing more than a tune-up, a chance for a part-time golfer to work out the kinks before teeing it up with the seniors.

Only Norman was in contention after the first round. And he hung around after Friday. After Saturday, he was actually in the lead. For all the talk coming in of how the major would hold up without Tiger Woods, Norman made sure the interest was still there. Could he make history and become the oldest player to win a major? Could Norman become the first golfer since Jack Nicklaus to win the same major three times in three different decades?

Alas, no. And it wasn't so much that Norman shot a 77 in the final round, spraying his driver left and right while his putter suddenly lost its magic. It actually had more to do with two-time champion Padraig Harrington shooting a 32 on the back nine. This wasn't a major Norman lost; it was a major Harrington won.

Let's not forget, Harrington bogeyed holes 7 through 9 on Sunday -- much like Norman opened with bogies on 1, 2 and 3. But Harrington kept himself calm, and after a birdie on 15 and an astounding eagle on 17, he held the Claret Jug for the second time in two years -- five days after telling reporters he wasn't sure if he could finish the tournament because of a bum wrist.

Norman was a great story this past weekend, and I hope he decides to play in next month's PGA Championship. Norman's also eligible for The Masters in 2009 by virtue of his tie for third at Royal Birkdale, and I'd love to see him there as well.

Well played, Shark. Well played.

Another golf note

Anyone notice how being completely healthy this season does nothing for you in the majors?

Think about it: Trevor Immelman won The Masters just four months after having a tumor removed from his abdomen. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with a disintegrated ACL and two stress fractures in his leg. And Padraig Harrington defended his Claret Jug with a bad wrist.

Whoever's ailing heading into the PGA next month, go ahead and make them the favorite. That just seems to be the kind of year this is.


In light of news last week that the Green Bay Packers filed tampering charges against the Minnesota Vikings as part of the never-ending Brett Favre saga, I just have to wonder: what's the big deal with tampering?

I get that it's against league rules, but what makes the situation between the Packers and Vikings so different from any other in the league? Whenever a free agent signs with a new team almost the moment the free agency period starts, who in their right mind thinks this sort of thing doesn't happen all that often?

Is it really such a crime for front office personnel for other teams contacting a player to see if he would like to go elsewhere, be it a trade or free agent deal? And say somehow the Vikings are proven to have tampered with Favre (which looks more likely, now that phone records have surfaced showing Favre used a Packers-issued phone to contact Vikings head coach Brad Childress) -- what then?

To me, tampering is a lot like Spygate: sure, the Patriots got caught, but are we seriously gonna sit here and say they're the only team doing it? No ... the reason no one from any other team in the NFL has come forward and publicly admonished Bill Belichek and his staff is because everyone else is doing it; the Patriots were just dumb enough to get caught.

Tampering's the same way. Everyone in the league does it; the Vikings just might be the ones to get caught. Same way last year when the 49ers tried to land Lance Briggs from the Chicago Bears. San Francisco might've been busted for tampering, but I guarantee you they were neither the first nor the last to do it.

But if we insist on cracking down on tampering, why not get the L.A. Clippers? Signing Elton Brand to a contract not even 24 hours after he opted out of his deal with Golden State -- do we really think they weren't talking behind the scenes before league rules allowed them to?

I'd like to think we're not that naive.

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