Greg Norman is one of perhaps a dozen or so men in the world who can snap a leash to a great golf course and make it heel. Washingtonians adore him, and not simply because he seems fully capable of walking off the 18th green and into the Redskins' defensive backfield.
Norman has the sort of style much admired here. Anyone who wears lavender mix-and-match on the final round of a tournament demands attention -- and it was a tossup yesterday which sucked your breath away quickest: Norman's game or the humidity.
He said the 6-under 66 that got him into the playoff he won was "by far the worst I could have shot." That's true. The thousands of us who shadowed his every step are eager witnesses.
Both Congressional Country Club and Larry Mize fought well. The course also must be sad to see the Kemper leave, for it coaxed six extra holes out of the day.
With a 69, Mize broke par for the fourth straight round. He made one bad swing, with a driver on the 72nd hole, and one wrong guess that cost him the tournament.
Until that bum judgment, he and Norman were turning Congressional into a golfing merry-go-round. Two times they did the loop around the 16th through 18th holes, and for once the paying customers had the best view.
That was because CBS pulled the plug, deciding that Norman's buddies Larry Bird and Danny Ainge were more compelling than what became a thrilling playoff: sudden death with the respirator active a whole lot longer than expected.
Until Mize got generous, it seemed that he and Norman might bop a golf ball as many times as the Celtics and Rockets scored points. For the record, Norman gave his 88 pats; when last seen, Mize was working on infinity.
Poor fellow could not muster enough nerve to try to hit a 9-iron 161 yards. In fluff that makes club selection tricky, Mize figured the 8-iron he normally hits 140-plus yards would be correct.
And did hole the shot. Trouble is, the hole was 200 yards in diameter and filled with water. Needing to sink an impossible shot for par after a penalty stroke, Mize chunked the ball into water on the other side of the green.
He took the dreaded hacker's X for the hole. Painfully, he was reminded of one of pro golf's simplest rules: you can't beat a Shark in water.
This one yesterday was at full bore and had its teeth bared right from the start. He birdied four of the first six holes and watched another fowl ball, from 11 feet, slide by the hole.
For Norman, a customer standing just outside the ropes near the third fairway captured his brilliance best. He was wearing a cutoff shirt with enormous lettering that read:
Mostly, the normally leonine Congressional was a tabby for Norman.
On a tear Norman is thrilling, for he combines the power of a dockworker with the touch of a burgler. He spanked a 400-yard drive once. Honest.
But he won this tournament with the skinny guys' clubs, the wedges.
Probably, he will look back and acknowledge that he got into the playoff with a shot he struck a day before the final round began. That was the brilliant sand shot that allowed him to escape the 18th hole on Saturday with par.
It was the same bunker from which Mize could not get up and down for victory in regulation yesterday. Sand shark; land shark.
On both par-5s on the front nine yesterday, Norman cozied wedge shots to within easy birdie range. The second one actually had two chances to hop into the cup from perhaps 100 or so yards.
When Norman struck the ball on the ninth hole, the gallery figured it just might fly in for an eagle. It landed a foot or so away instead, then sucked back and scarcely missed again.
Naturally, Norman chose one of the most highly populated places on the course for the tap-in that could have been close to taps for the field.
Before this piece gets too gee-whiz drippy, one question must be posed: If Norman's so great, how come he was in the woods on the fifth and 15th holes? Well, on the fifth hole he was showing that even the finest craftsman needs luck.
A yard or so in almost any direction and Norman would have faced an almost-certain bogey. Instead, he was in position to pop-fly the ball into position for a fine two-putt par.
In his mind, no golfer hits a bad shot. Some are less magnificent than others. So the problem on 15 was not a snap-hook, as it seemed, but that a tree grew 50 feet tall and three feet fat in a couple of seconds.
Norman was sweating, but not over the fact that it looked as though he had no chance to sock the ball forward. Even his caddy was concerned.
"I had a backswing," Norman said, "and when you have a backswing you can do anything with the ball." In this case, the anything became a twisting punch upfield and a 6-iron that set up another birdie putt.
He missed that one, same as three others from less than 20 feet failed to drop. A 62 would have been some close for the Kemper at Congressional.
Norman is tickled to win, but not overwhelmed. He's at the point in his career where only majors become special. Appealingly confident, he is on record as believing "a half-dozen Masters" are possible.
By winning this weekend on a course that has hosted a U.S. Open and a PGA, he is poised for an assault on Shinnecock Hills in two weeks.
"I'm very keen to get there," he said of the Open.
If he hasn't left too many sensational shots at Congressional, Norman will be a favorite. He's one of ours now, you know. And if that accent seems puzzling, no matter. Queensland, Australia, is just the other side of Beltsville. CAPTION: Picture, Greg Norman gives his daughter, Morgan, a lift into the spotlight after his sudden-death victory at Congressional earned him a check for $90,000.