- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

The 35th Kemper Open has been reduced to a weekend feeding frenzy one Shark, lots of guppies.

Defying Father Time yet again, 47-year-old Greg Norman slashed around TPC at Avenel in 65 strokes yesterday, reaching 10 under for the tournament and claiming a two-stroke lead over a leader board littered with less formidable players.

"I feel like I've done a pretty good two days of work," said Norman after a bogey-free second round on the 7,005-yard, par-71 layout vaulted him two shots clear of the quartet of Craig Barlow, Bob Estes, Willie Wood and Bob Burns. "I feel pretty good right now and very comfortable in this position."

It's been a long while since Norman found himself in this position on the PGA Tour. In fact, the last time he held the outright midpoint lead in a Tour event came at the infamous 1996 Masters. His last victory came in 1997 (NEC World Series). And as a non-exempt player on Tour this season, the Shark has played in just six events and failed to contend in any of them.

But 36holes at Avenel are testament to the fact that neither age nor an erratic schedule have dulled the talents that made him the world's most popular player in the pre-Tiger era.

"I don't feel 47, to tell you the truth," said Norman, who still looks more fit than 90percent of his counterparts. "The hard part is actually getting to the starting gate. And once you're out of the starting gate in good fashion, everything else just takes over naturally. That's how I've golfed the last couple of days."

Playing in a gentle breeze late yesterday afternoon, Norman started his round with seven pars and then erupted around the turn, carding birdies at Nos.8, 9, 12 and 13 to move into a momentary tie for the lead at 8under. He surged to the top of the board for the first time with a 10-footer for birdie at No.16. And then he beat back some of his demons on the water-guarded, par3, 17th by stuffing a 6-iron to two feet for complete command of the Kemper.

"I really hit the ball beautifully today, drove it exceptionally well and found the proper flight with my irons," said Norman, who has missed just four fairways in two days at Avenel. "Irrespective of what happens over the weekend, it's a very, very good tonic because I know I've brought myself back to where I feel all the work I've been doing over the last year and a half has paid off."

Almost exactly two years ago, Norman had arthroscopic surgery performed on his right hip. Recovery has not come as quickly as it might have at 35, but months of rehabilitation and a rigorous workout schedule that includes cycling 120 miles a week have slowly brought him back to form. There have been glimpses over the past six months. Norman shellacked the trio of Tiger Woods, Jesper Parnevik and Colin Montgomerie in the Skins Game last Thanksgiving, winning the entire $1million purse.

"I shut everybody out there," said Norman, whose 132 total is just two strokes off the 36-hole Avenel scoring record. "The Skins Game is not a 72-hole event by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt I was going to be the guy there. I felt very good going into the tournament, and I played that way. I hit the right shots at the right times coming down the stretch, and that's not that long ago.

"And even though it was a Skins game, a made-for-television match, I played some of the shots under the gun. I had never had to make a putt for a million dollars before then. But I didn't have one bit of apprehension about anything I did during that Skins game, so that was a pretty good indication to me. And that's pretty much how I feel right now."

That's bad news for a leader board that isn't exactly stuffed with imposing challengers. Norman's 17 Tour victories give him five more than the combined total of the 10 other players who enter the weekend fray at 7under or better. Plus, Norman has two Kemper titles at Congressional (1984 and '86) and an event-best stroke average of 68.6 at Avenel to add to the intimidation factor.

"You know he's going to be there because he's done it so many times before," said first-round leader Franklin Langham after a disappointing 72 dropped him to 7under. "But there's a lot of golf left."

That thought is likely to be the morning mantra for most of the 76 players who survived the Kemper's cut at even-par 142. The most notable players still in contention include 1999 champion Rich Beem (136), 1994 champion Mark Brooks (136), and electric youngsters Charles Howell (136) and Bryce Molder (136).

A few notables are headed home: Local favorite Fred Funk (144), sentimental favorites Casey Martin (147) and Jeff Julian (154) and past champions Frank Lickliter (143), Tom Scherrer (143), Steve Stricker (145) and Bill Glasson (147).

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