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GREAT WHITE SHOCK? 500-1 Norman bosses Birkdale.

Byline: By Jeremy Chapman

GREG NORMAN, 53 years old and a 500-1 chance at the start of the week, leads the time-warp Open 22 years after winning his first one.

And Padraig Harrington, the champion who said only three days earlier that his strained wrist might force him to pull out, starts today's final round at Royal Birkdale the 11-4 favourite to nab back-to-back Claret Jugs. It's a strange old game, isn't it?

Part-timer Norman, who prefers playing tennis with new wife Chrissie Evert to working on his golf, has come from nowhere.

He doesn't even support the Champions Tour in the States but he is playing the Senior British Open at Troon this week. What sort of a good thing is he for that?

On a brutal day of winds up to 40mph when nobody beat the par of 70 and only four equalled it, Norman turned back the clock to his Open-winning days at Turnberry in 1986 and Sandwich in 1993 with a sensational 72 to add to his opening two rounds of 70 to stand two over par on 212.

It gave him a two-shot lead over halfway leader KJ Choi, who could manage only a 75 and is out to 5-1, and Harrington, who was round in 72 and pleased with it.

Pod said: "I would have taken 72 before we started. Those were hardest putting conditions I've ever played in."

But can the Great White Shark, one of the richest men in sport, stay there - the Australian legend who blew more Majors than he won and had a few more snatched away from him by freak shots like Larry Mize's chip-in in a Masters play-off and Bob Tway holing a bunker shot in a USPGA?

Bookmakers are finally taking his challenge seriously, even though the oldest Open winner was 44-year-old Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967 and nobody has ever won a Major in his fifties.

Now Norman, who was 25-1 yesterday morning, is 4-1 to rewrite the record books in what would be one of the most amazing sports stories of the decade.

Yesterday you simply could not believe that Norman had not won a golf tournament of any sort for ten years. Rarely with smile off his face, he played with the confidence of youth as he received standing ovations on every hole.

At the end of a long day with the final groups taking five hours to complete because of a hold-up on the exposed tenth hole where players were running up big numbers, four players had a jump on the field, Norman, Pod, Choi and a journeyman barely known outside Newcastle-under-Lyme, 34-year-old Simon Wakefield, who played the round of his life, a 70, to leapfrog over some of the most famous names in golf.

He stands just three off the pace on 215 and is a top-offer 25-1. Like Norman, he teed off as a 500-1 chance and gave bookmakers real hope of another nearskinner of Ben Curtis-Todd Hamilton proportions.

But Ladbrokes' Brad Barry is not convinced it's between that quartet with star talent like Anthony Kim, Ross Fisher and 2003 winner Curtis only five behind and even pre-Open favourite Sergio Garcia not entirely out of it at seven off Norman's lead.

"We'll be cheering for Harrington," he said. "Amazingly, he would be twice the result for us that Norman, who is a big inrunning liability.

"If Pod wins, it has to be the biggest put-away in the history of sport. We couldn't lay him at 20-1, 25-1 or 33-1."

But those who did lay him at 70 on Betfair are feeling sorry for themselves for ignoring the old maxim 'Beware the sick golfer'.

Wakefield has never won on the European Tour in 210 starts but produced stellar golf that was the envy of many who were humbled by the conditions including Camilo Villegas, 79 after Friday's record 65, Graeme McDowell (80), Justin Rose (82) and sad David Duval (83).

Hills say their biggest pre-Open bet on the 6ft 2in Wakefield, whose uncle Bob Taylor used to keep wicket for England, was pounds 2 each-way at 200-1 and pounds 80 at 125-1 in-running.

"You could say we would be slightly delighted if he won," said spokesman Rupert Adams.Curtis, 39th at the start of the day, made the most of the gentler early weather to shoot 70, which moved him up to fifth alongside youngsters Kim and Fisher, who were both excellent with 71s, the 23-year-old Californian eagling the long 17th. Twice a winner this year, Kim is as short as 14-1 wit Coral.

Sweden's Alexander Noren joined them late in the day and another, better-known Swede, Henrik Stenson, is among those one stroke further back.

Ladbrokes were looking to get Robert Allenby beaten, having accepted a pounds 15,000 bet yesterday at 16-1, and the Aussie gave them a helping hand by yipping a threefooter at the last but is still just about in range on 218.

The same firm reported a pounds 6,000 wager on Choi at 6-1, while Hills took pounds 1,500-worth of bets on Curtis after he had finished his great round. Only he, Wakefield, Stenson and Davis Love matched the par of 70.

Their big bogey was Furyk after taking a staggering pounds 25,000 bet at 4-1 in-running yesterday but the American, usually reliable, imploded on the back nine, taking 43 shots after going out in level-par 34.

He is also definitely not wanted by VCbet as a pounds 4,000 pre-Open bet at 25-1 was easily their biggest and their prayers look like being answered.

Fairytales sometimes do happen and a Norman victory tonight would be the biggest one in golf since Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at the record age of 46 - which was greatly helped by accident-prone Greg smashing his second shot into the stands at the 72nd - but for me it's still Pod's Open.

CAPTION(S):

Ben Curtis tees off at the 11th yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2008
Words:994
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