Playing a round of golf where it is easiest – in his imagination – Greg Norman was quite comical, without trying to be. Telling Golf Magazine that he was fearless, and thus would have held his own against Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson, Norman saved his best stuff for Woods.
“I probably would have beat him,” said Norman.
Not sure in what, but if he was talking golf, then the Shark has probably forgotten that one time when his path did cross with Woods. It was the 1998 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, where the International Team put a drubbing on the Americans.
By Sunday’s singles, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Even the captains, Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson, knew they had to do something to keep whatever interest there still was with fans. What followed still tickles Nicklaus’ fancy so much he recalled the story during last fall’s President Cup in Ohio.
“Norman did not want to play Tiger at Royal Melbourne,” Nicklaus said. “I think he had been injured and had not been back very long, so he asked Peter Thomson not to (put him in against Tiger). Word got back to me . . . Tiger said to me, ‘I want Norman,’ and my goal was to get Norman for him.”
Nicklaus worked the draw perfectly, loving the Presidents Cup system in which captains go one pick at a time so they get the matchups they want most of the time.
“When we had four (players left) and it was Peter’s turn, he was had.”
Thomson put out Norman, Nicklaus countered with Woods, not O’Meara, who went last against Stuart Appleby.
“Norman said to me, ‘Why did you do that to me?’ I said, ‘Hey, you’re not on my team.’ Norman didn’t like it to start, but he laughed about it later. That’s just part of the fun.”
Of course, Woods had the biggest laugh, a 1-up victory to at least salvage something of the trip Down Under.
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SOME R&R: As he did last year, Graeme McDowell will take an extended break going from one year to the next. Unlike last year, when it was about 10 weeks off, the man from Northern Ireland will keep his hiatus to about two months.
“Physically, I needed the time off last year,” said McDowell. “I had five weeks off (this year) to get married, so I’m feeling a fair bit fresher at this point in the season than I normally do. Mentally, I just need the break. I’ve got a lot of work to do on my game, so I’m looking forward to the break.”
Whereas a year ago he eased back into competition at the Northern Trust Open, McDowell will return earlier this time around, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The appeal is two-fold. One, it will provide a chance to return to the scene of his greatest triumph, the 2010 U.S. Open. And two, he hopes to tee it up with his father, “which will be an amazing experience,” McDowell said.
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EMPTY CUP: One tournament McDowell doesn’t have on his schedule for 2014 is the Tavistock Cup. That’s because the mid-March exhibition is no more.
“I’ll miss the Tavistock a little bit. It was good fun. I used to enjoy the blue (Lake Nona mates) versus red (Isleworth lads). The blue versus red was fun,” said McDowell.
Beyond the helicopter rides across Orlando and the chance to compete alongside Justin Rose and Ian Poulter against Tiger Woods & Co., McDowell is beholden to Joe Lewis’ Tavistock Group, which backed the tournament for 10 years.
“I’ve been living in Lake Nona (Tavistock property) since 2005. My restaurant (Nona Blue) is on Tavistock property and I’m indebted to the Tavistock in general, really, for what they’ve doe for me and for golf.”
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GO FIGURE: Dustin Johnson got 2.4 world-ranking points for finishing dead last of 18 players in an unofficial event called the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. He got 1.72 points for finishing 55th in the U.S. Open, a major championship.
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HE’S A TRAVELIN’ MAN: How about a round of applause for Michael Thompson, who has been busy flying the American colors in tournaments all over the world. Having finished his PGA Tour season just shy of making it into the Tour Championship, Thompson had a few weeks off. Good thing, too, because in October he headed to Malaysia for the CIMB Classic, then it was China for the HSBC Champions, then on to the Indian Open.
Back home for a few weeks, Thompson unpacked, caught his breath, and then headed for the Thailand Open, which gets under way Thursday.
Thompson, who broke through for his first PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic in March, hasn’t been the only American in some of these ports. D.A. Points also played in Malaysia and at the HSBC, and he’s playing in Thailand right now.
Clearly, the folks behind the Thailand Open are intent on beefing up the field with whatever appearance money is needed, because Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, and Hunter Mahan went over together from California, and coming in from the Nedbank Challenge were Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, and Sergio Garcia.