Greg Norman, the defending champion for this week's Kemper Open, has been struggling with his golf game. The PGA Tour's killer sharks have been picking away at the Great White Shark.

Norman missed the midway cut at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial tournament in Ohio last week with 75 and 76. He has missed cuts in two of the eight events he has played, and his best finish was sixth at Las Vegas in March. He stands at 56th on the earnings list with $62,714.

Last year, by contrast, he won the Kemper by five shots, the Canadian Open, and almost won the U.S. Open, losing to Fuzzy Zoeller in a playoff. He finished ninth in earnings with $310,230.

"It's getting better," he said yesterday after practicing at Congressional Country Club, where he hit balls and putted about an hour, and then played a practice round with Nick Price and Ian Baker-Finch that was rained out on the 15th hole.

"I did a lot of good work over the weekend at home in Orlando," he said. "I'm looking forward to it, a good week of golf."

He attributed part of his problem to bronchial asthma from February through April. He said that when he finished 35th in the Masters in April, he played the whole tournament with a temperature "over 100."

He said that, "Right now, I'm so healthy its scary."

Difficult Congressional seems an unlikely place to find one's game, but that is the challenge facing the Australian. Norman has something going for him: He's long and strong, and confident once again.

"Right now the golf course is playing shorter than normal," he said. "With a storm coming up, it might get longer. The longer the better. The golf course suits me."

Can he win this week? "Oh, definitely. I'm very happy with my game. As long as I keep my patience and cool."

Every year the Kemper comes to town, there's talk of a weak field without such glamor names as Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson.

"I don't buy it," said pro Mike Reid. "There are a lot of players blossoming now who are here, like Corey Pavin (who set the tournament record in winning the Colonial two weeks ago) and Curtis Strange (PGA Tour leading money winner).

Nicklaus (70 tour victories) and Watson (1984 player of the year) are absent, but aren't playing well. The five top finishers in the strong Memorial field are entered, including winner and two-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, 14-time tour event winner Lanny Wadkins, re-emerging Bill Kratzert, former Maryland golf captain George Burns, and surprising second-year pro Pavin.

John Fought, former U.S. Amateur champion and one of the many long hitters here, said: "Everybody's strong. Most people judge a field by five or six names, like Nicklaus or Watson or (Lee) Trevino. I have yet to play in a tournament where I say to myself, 'Boy, this is a weak field. I'll do well this week.' In (Ben) Hogan's day, if you took five or six players away, you had something, but not today."

Fought and Reid are the long and short of it, off the tee. But both types have won on this course. Dave Stockton (1976 PGA) and John Mahaffey (1980 Kemper) are short hitters, and Fred Couples (1982 Kemper) and Norman hit long.

"That's why I keep coming here," said Reid. "This course is long, hilly and it'll probably be hot. You have to be patient. You know par at the end of the week will be a good score."

Fifty-two teams of four amateurs and a top PGA Tour pro will tee it up in today's $12,500 pro-am, starting at 7 a.m. The 10 low individual pros and the 10 pros involved with the lowest scoring teams will earn prize money.

George Graefe (71), Woody FitzHugh (72), Tony Milam (72) and Mike Arnsbrak (72) were Middle Atlantic PGA members who qualified for the Kemper yesterday at Poolesville.

Rain postponed until this morning at 7:30 completion of the open qualifier at Lakewood. With about half of the 56-man field still to finish, the leaders are John Yancey of Greensboro, N.C. (67), Gilles Gagnon of Miami (67), Jon Chaffee of Austin, Tex. (68) and Jim Booros of Allentown, Pa. (69).

Former Washington-area golfer Jim Thorpe of Buffalo withdrew yesterday through the PGA Tour office for reasons that could not be ascertained. His replacement will not be named until this morning.