Greg Norman played an unwitting part in Padraig Harrington’s fifth place finish in the Open at Muirfield in July 2002. Just a week before the Open, the pair played an exhibition match at Doonbeg in Co Clare to mark the official opening of the Australian’s Irish links design.
The Great White Shark won their matchplay tussle 2 and 1, playing 17 holes in six under par and prompting Harrington to gush: “He played beautifully, didn't he?"
Harrington added: "It was an ideal forerunner to my preparations for the Open...... Aside from my tee-shots, I don't think I hit one shot with a full normal swing.”
On the eve of the final round, Harrington still remembered that battle at Doonbeg, recalling: “When he's interested, Greg Norman can really play. He knocked the socks off me in Doonbeg, and you could see he wanted to play golf that day.
“I've seen him at other times turn up at golf courses that he's looking at the design of the golf course and he's got other things in his mind. Like anybody else, if you're not there, it doesn't happen.
Rose rooting for Norman
Justin Rose puts Greg Norman’s amazing Open Championship performance down to post-nuptial bliss. The English favourite failed to match his fourth place finish as an amateur in 1998, when he close with a 73 for a 21-over par total.
But he reckons that 53-year-old Norman’s wedding to tennis legend Chris Evert three weeks ago, has a lot to do with his Royal Birkdale showing.
Winner of the Australian Masters shortly before his wedding in 2006, Rose said: “My take on it is that he seems very happy off the course and there’s a lot to be said for that. When you go through something like a marriage or something special in your life that’s when golf is in perspective. He’s on an emotional high.”
Asked who he’d be cheering for in the final round, Rose revealed: “I’ll be rooting for Greg. I think everyone will be rooting for him. It would be cool for him to end his career with this. he could retire a happy man.”
David Duval and Padraig Harrington cut contrasting figures at Royal Birkdale this week - 17 years after they first co-incided in the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock.
The former world No1, winner of the Open at Royal Lytham in 2001, partnered the Dubliner in the third round but crashed to an 83 to Harrington’s 72 as 50 mph winds lashed the course.
Now ranked 1087th in the world (Harrington was 14th starting the week), Duval steadied the ship in the final round by carding a 71 for a 16-over par total.
Watching Harrington’s third round, Duval said: “I was amazed how well Padraig putted in the wind. That’s what impressed me most about him. He seemed to get the breaks when he hit it in the high stuff, but don’t get me wrong, it was an impressive performance.”
Last-minute Open qualifier Jay Williamson completed his links golf debut with flying colours when he closed with a 74 to finish on 16 over par.
And the man from St Louis can thank his veteran caddie Dave Musgrove for keeping him on the straight and narrow at Royal Birkdale.
The 65-year-old caddie was alongside Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle for their Open successes, accompanying the Spaniard to victory in 1979 at Royal Lytham and St Annes and Lyle at Royal St George’s in 1985.
Speaking after the final round, Musgrove recalled Lyle’s 1985 win, when Christy O’Connor Jnr finished tied for third behind the Scot.
“We played with Christy Jnr,” Musgrove recalled. “That was when I realised that Jnr was a seriously good player. He really was a lovely ball-striker but I think that putting was the only thing that stopped him winning.”
Williamson couldn’t quite matched Tony Lima, who played his first links event at St Andrews in 1964 and walked away with the Open. With Arnold Palmer an absentee, Lima used Arnie’s regular caddie Tip Anderson and lifted the Claret Jug. Two years later, he was tragically killed in an aircrash.
The 2008 edition of the Open set a new attendance record for an Open at Royal Birkdale.
In 1998 a crowd of 34,500 turned up to watch Mark O'Meara beat Brian Watts in a play-off, bringing the week-long attendance to 192,500.
This year, the official figures from the R&A put the attendance at 201,500 - up 9,000 on 1998 - with 40,000 fans packing the Southport venue on the final day.
Friday was the bumper day with 44,500 spectators thronging the sand dunes.