SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Greg Norman says he doesn't think about what happened here nine years ago. About the drunken fan who heckled him as he led the U.S. Open during the third round. About the 75 he shot on Sunday to blow a one-shot lead.
But he wouldn't mind getting another chance at winning an Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Norman might, considering the way he has played the first 36 holes of the 95th Open. A 3-under-par 67 yesterday gave Norman a two-round total of 5-under 135 and the lead going into today's third round.
The 40-year-old Australian, who has won two British Opens but no other majors in one of the game's most star-crossed careers, leads Jumbo Ozaki of Japan by two shots. Former PGA champion Bob Tway, the first-round leader here nine years ago who wound up tied for eighth, is at 2-under along with Phil Mickelson.
First-round leader Nick Price fell four shots behind after a 3-over-par 73. The reigning British Open and PGA champion is tied at 1-under with two-time Kemper Open winner Bill Glasson. Former British Open champion Nick Faldo and Davis Love III are among four others at 140.
"I'm looking forward to the weekend, I'm looking forward to an extremely good golf tournament," Norman said after finishing the round by holing out from off the green with a bladed wedge shot.
"It's going to be a close tournament. There's going to be guys out there like the Jeff Maggerts and Vijay Singhs and Nick Prices of the world who have a lot of golf to play yet."
But no Ernie Els. The defending champion, who won last year's Open at Oakmont in a Monday playoff, missed the cut by one shot after finishing the first two rounds in 7-over 147. The 25-year-old South African thus becomes the third straight defending Open champion to miss the cut. He also missed the cut at this year's Masters.
"I'm very disappointed, but there will be other U.S. Opens," said Els, who shot a 73 yesterday and came withing a few inches of making a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole. "I've had two bad [majors] this year. I don't want to think like it's a burden [to be defending champion], but I felt a lot more tense on the first tee Thursday."
Just as Price was asked if his opening round was reminiscent of the one he played en route to last year's PGA Championship victory at Southern Hills, Norman was asked if the first two rounds brought back memories of the 1986 Open, when he charged into the lead after the second round.
But Norman was not about to stroll down memory lane, especially when his last trip here ended with a disappointing finish.
"There has been a lot of water under the bridge in nine years," said Norman. "But, obviously, I started to feel good about my game and playing the way I'm playing. I had a feeling that it was going to happen. So I'm just happy and I'm going to try to keep myself in control of what is going on out there. Basically, I'm not going to get ahead of myself and not stay behind myself."
Price, who started the round with a two-shot lead, was tied with Norman at 5-under after a birdie on the par-5 fifth. Then came the free fall: bogeys on the next two holes, three of the next five and five of 10. A birdie at the par-5 16th brought Price back under par.
"It was a long day," said Price, "What made me feel so uncomfortable today was my putting. All in all, I feel pretty fortunate to shoot 73 and still have a chance to win this tournament. Hopefully, that was my one bad round."
But Price might need a little help from Norman, his close friend and Florida neighbor. Norman came into the Open as one of the favorites, off his victory last month in The Memorial and his strong play in last week's Kemper. What he has done so far
seems a strong indication that he could be closing in on his first U.S. major.
"It all depends on Greg right now," said Price. "He's obviously playing so well right now. He's in such a good frame of mind. Tomorrow is a key day for us and it's a very key day for Greg. If he goes out and plays well, only three or four guys will have a chance to catch him."
Whether Norman can win at Shinnecock depends partly on the " conditions, which likely will get tougher as the sun continues to dry out the course, and partly on Norman's psyche, which has a tendency to get a bit fragile in majors.
Norman said he's tougher mentally than he was earlier in his career, the result of using some of those agonizing defeats at the hands of Tway in the 1986 PGA and Larry Mize in the 1987 Masters as character-builders. He said he has become more patient, through reading about Zen. He said he's in better physical condition, through his daily pre- and post-round workouts.
"I'm extremely patient now," he said yesterday. "I'm very calm and relaxed with myself. My game is good. It's not as sharp as I'd like to have it, but it's good. But I think the part of my game that I'm happiest about is with the way I'm controlling myself out there.
"When I bogeyed the 10th hole today, I said, 'Hey, just come
back with a birdie, and I came right back with a birdie. So that was an automatic good kicker for me to happen."
But the best kicker for Norman came at 18. After his approach landed just off the green, Norman hit what golfers call a "belly wedge". In other words, he hit it like a putt. The 18-footer dropped for birdie and might have knocked out the rest of the Open field in the process.
Asked about the shot, Norman said, "What I tell myself is expect the unexpected, and if you can get an unexpected situation, how do you get out of it? The only way you get out is to practice by putting yourself in it. So I've done it for years."
After what happened nine years ago, Norman is ready for anything.
After what he has done this week, he might be ready to win the Open.
The leader . . .
Greg Norman 68-67135 -5
, . . . and selected followers
Jumbo Ozaki .. .. .. .. .. ..69-68137 -3
Phil Mickelson .. .. .. .. ..68-70138 -2
Bob Tway .. .. .. .. . .. ...69-69138 -2
Bill Glasson .. .. .. .. .. .69-70139 -1
Nick Price .. .. .. .. .. ...66-73139 -1
Nick Faldo .. .. .. .. .. ....72-68140 E
Davis Love III .. .. .. .. ...72-68140 E
Tom Kite .. .. .. .. .. .. ..70-72142 +2
Scott Simpson .. .. .. .. ...67-75142 +2
Tom Watson .. .. .. .. .. ...70-73143 +3
Raymond Floyd .. .. .. .. ...74-72146 +6
John Daly .. .. .. .. .. .. .71-75146 +6