Grand old man's regret

GREG NORMAN, 48, one of the grand old men of golf, returned to the scene of his 1993 British Open triumph to bemoan the lack of characters in the modern game.

The Australian has undergone hip, shoulder and back surgeries through the strain of hitting, he estimates, around four million balls in his career.

He has played only three tournaments so far this year.

Norman remains a keen observer of the sport although he fears it has "gone flat" for a number of factors including a lack of charisma among the younger players.

"Over the broad sweep it seems that they are pretty much the same," he told a news conference. "They're all fit and have all the psychology but you don't see a Craig Stadler out there — he had charisma, he'd kick his clubs and when he played you had a reaction.

"Most of the younger players seem like they're very stoic in their approach. When Steve (Ballesteros) and I played, we had a bit of flair, wore our hearts on our sleeves and I think that's missing in a lot of them.

"That's why it was so good to see Sergio Garcia come out of that group of players with that flair too. I don't care whether he's Spanish, Australian or whatever, people want to see guys like him play."

Few could accuse Norman of lacking charisma in a 27-year career which has reaped 86 titles world wide including two British Open titles in 1986 at Turnberry and Royal St George's the last time it was played here in 1993.

He is also remembered for some spectacular near-misses including his U.S. Masters nightmare of 1996 when he surrendered a six-shot lead on the last day to allow an inspired Nick Faldo to claim his third green jacket.

Norman regrets little, though, and remains among the highest earning golfers thanks to a string of business interests including a burgeoning golf course design company.

"I do wish that I'd started working out earlier in my career — like Gary Player has done — because that way I could have avoided some more of the problems that kick in when you're around 45," he said.

Norman estimated he would play a maximum of 12 tournaments a year and then six or so when he turned 50 in two years.