Norman, Lehman pace Open crowd


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Haven't we been here before?

Wasn't it nine years ago when the U.S. Open leader board at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club seemed to include a cast of thousands? Or was it yesterday?

Wasn't it nine years ago when an unruly fan heckled third-round leader Greg Norman, or was this a case of deja rude all over again?

But there was a difference at the 95th Open. This time, Norman lost all but a share of the lead but kept his composure on a wild and windy afternoon on Long Island.

"There's more to golf than just hitting a ball," Norman said after an adventurous 4-over-par 74 left him tied with Tom Lehman at 1-under 209. "There's chipping and putting and having heart. I had a very strong heart today."

It wasn't a day for the faint-hearted.

Two-time British Open champion Nick Faldo, who came into the day five shots behind Norman, double-bogeyed the first hole en route to a 79. Reigning Masters champion Ben Crenshaw birdied the opening hole, but wound up with a 79 anyway. Tom Kite, who won the 1992 Open at Pebble Beach under similarly brutal conditions, shot 82.

And then there was Japan's Jumbo Ozaki, who played with Norman in the final twosome and cut the lead to one shot with a birdie on the fifth hole. Early on, someone called him "Barney" for dressing in purple. But you didn't need an imagination to see Ozaki disappear with an 80.

"I don't think I've seen a tougher day in any tournament," said Norman, whose score was a fraction below the day's average. "I can't remember ever seeing such great players humbled as what I saw out there with Jumbo and myself. But that is just a credit to the golf course. This is the U.S. Open. . . . I hit a lot of good shots but where they finished, I ended up looking like a 15-handicapper."

Said Phil Mickelson, who was tied with Bob Tway at even-par 210 after each shot 2-over: "There wasn't a feeling of having to make birdies to catch anybody. It was obvious before I got to the first tee that everybody was going backward."

It was, in Norman's mind, the best round over par he ever had in his career. He hit only nine fairways -- as he did each of the first two days -- but made only five greens in regulation and had just 25 putts, 10 of them to save par.

His four-footer at 18, which came after he missed a five-footer for birdie, kept him tied for the lead.

And it left the 40-year-old Australian brimming with confidence, and in good position to win his third major championship and first U.S. major. He led the 1986 Open here by one stroke after three rounds, but faded to 12th with a final-day 75.

"Today was a day to test your character and your intestinal fortitude," said Norman, who has been accused of lacking those traits in the majors, especially down the stretch. "What do you really want? We all really want to be there to win a championship. Today's 74 was equivalent to shooting a 64."

Asked what Lehman's 67 -- the best round of the day and only one of three below par -- was equal to, Norman shot back: "He shot 59."

Norman didn't even seem bothered by what took place on the 16th hole. In 1986, a drunken fan accused Norman of choking on the back nine of the third round, and the player responded by challenging the spectator to a fight. Though Norman held onto his slim lead, he was clearly shaken.

Yesterday, it was a 25-year-old man from nearby Patchogue, N.Y., who yelled at Norman as Ozaki was about to hit a shot from the rough. According to spectators, the man yelled several things to try to unnerve Norman.

The man, Joe Desmond, said that he yelled, "Long live the PGA Tour! The USGA forever!" and "What happened to the World Tour, Greg?" Desmond, who said that he used to be a fan of Norman's, said he was angered when the player refused to autograph a cap during a practice round last week.

"He said to me [that] it's the U.S. Open and he didn't want a foreigner winning it," said Officer Artie Sirico, the Suffolk County (N.Y.) policemen who escorted Desmond away.

Norman said after the round that he wasn't affected by the incident, which included Norman's caddie, Tony Navarro, telling Desmond, "We're trying to play golf here." Neither Norman nor Navarro would comment any further.

Having been in this position as many times as Norman has is usually an advantage, but it could be a deterrent as well. He lost in an 18-hole Open playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller at Winged Foot in 1984. Then there was 1986, when Norman was one of nine players tied for the lead midway through the final round.

"I have always been a believer in playing each shot as it comes," he said. "When you walk onto the next tee, that is really the first shot of the tournament. You can't worry about it because everything else is in the past."

Lehman, 36, has been in this position at a couple of Masters, most recently last year when he lost to Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain on the back nine at Augusta National. Since then, Lehman has won twice, at Memorial last year and at Colonial this year, with birdies on the last two holes.

"I think it will help," Lehman said of being in contention at previous majors. "I think having won twice since [the 1993 Masters] will definitely be helpful. You know there is still 18 holes of golf to be played on an extremely tough golf course."


The leaders

Greg Norman 68-67-74-209 -1

Tom Lehman 70-72-67-209 -1

. . . and followers

Bob Tway 69-69-72-210 E

Phil Mickelson 68-70-72-210 E

Ian Woosnam 72-71-69-212 +2

Corey Pavin 72-69-71-212 +2

Steve Stricker 71-70-71-212 +2

Scott Verplank 72-69-71-212 +2

Nick Price 66-73-73-212 +2

Davis Love III 72-68-73-213 +3

Vijay Singh 70-71-72-213 +3

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