- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Greg Norman didn’t take home the claret jug, but he defined last week’s 137th British Open. The aging Shark surfaced from semiretirement at Birkdale to give golf what it needed most in Tiger Woods’ first absence at a major in more than a decade: a marquee story line.

In the pantheon of compelling tales, Norman’s resurrection as the lion of the links after nearly a decade of competitive silence ranks right up there with Woods winning the U.S. Open on one leg. And if the 53-year-old Norman had rewritten his legacy by fooling Father Time for one more round to become the oldest major champion by more than five years, he would have authored the greatest golf story of the 21st century.

Given all the worry and asterisk chatter entering the event, Norman might have been the only golfer on the planet capable of making Tiger’s absence irrelevant. What were the odds of golf’s primary pre-Tiger protagonist returning from obscurity to rescue the show at precisely such a moment?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, professional sports aren’t solely an entertainment vehicle. Golf tournaments don’t hand out trophies for best supporting actors, no matter how powerful the performance.

So the Aussie again exits empty-handed after providing a mesmerizing show. Those who want to oversimplify one of golf’s most confounding careers again are left with ample evidence.

Conditions at Royal Birkdale were among the most apocalyptic at a major, but that can’t erase Norman’s Sunday 77 nor dispel the reality that his one-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington at the turn devolved into a six-stroke defeat.

But those who would paint Norman’s career as the portrait of a choke artist use clumsy strokes with a broad brush.

Perhaps for most, he always will be the man who consummated only one major victory in eight tries from the 54-hole post. For others, the fact he had led the Open through 63 holes at age 53 is a fitting epitaph for a career better characterized by fragmented brilliance than Sunday stumbles.

Greg Norman was inspirational,” veteran Sam Torrance told the Scotsman in advance of this week’s Senior British Open at Troon. “It was the performance of a lifetime, certainly the best I’ve seen. … For a 53-year-old man to lead the Open with nine holes to play and to be beaten only by probably the best finish a major has seen by Padraig Harrington was fantastic.”

The pressure of filling golf’s major void now falls on the Aug. 7-10 PGA Championship, where likely neither Norman nor a back-nine 32 will make an appearance.

The game’s hottest player will make his return to the major stage; 48-year-old Kenny Perry will join the action at Oakland Hills after sitting out the U.S. Open and British Open. While Perry boasts three victories, a scoring average of 68.34 in his last eight starts and the lead in the FedEx Cup points standings, he also maintains a lower Q-rating than half a dozen caddies on tour, making him ill-suited to serve as Woods’ PGA Championship stand-in.

A solid pick to carry golf’s marquee standard in Detroit is 23-year-old Anthony Kim, who has won twice this season on Oakland Hills-esque traditional tracks (Quail Hollow and Congressional) and finished tied for seventh last week in his first appearance at the British Open. Nobody other than Woods has Kim’s combination of length, accuracy, putting prowess and charisma. Not Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t seen a fairway this season. Not Ernie Els, who has all the killer instinct of a hamster. Nobody.

Don’t be surprised if Kim wins both the Wanamaker Trophy and the FedEx Cup and waits for Woods on the first tee at Augusta National next year as the world’s No. 2 player.

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