Steady when nothing more was needed, Greg Norman won the 115th British Open today by five strokes. So popular was the victory that he was doused with champagne before he left the final green.

Very likely, the victory, his third of the year and the first major one of his career, establishes Norman, 31, as the preeminent player in golf.

"I'd like to win 10, 12, 15 majors," he said after his 1-under-par 69 in the final round and even-par 280 for the tournament beat Gordon J. Brand by five shots, and Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam by six.

"It's like when you win your first tournament. The rungs on the ladder get smaller. Hopefully, the rungs on the major tournament ladder will get smaller now."

Norman won the way he wanted, going away. He was inspired by the player from whose books he used to learn the rudiments of golf: Jack Nicklaus.

"I wanted to win by a lot, instead of a four-footer on the last hole, so I could enjoy it, savor the whole moment," he said. "I said to Pete Bender, his caddie : 'Let's just walk slowly down 16, 17 and 18 and accept the moment.'

"I love it so much."

Norman's skills and sportsmanship made many golfers want his final round to be special. Nicklaus, who has won 20 majors, was among them.

"He came over last night at dinner and asked if we could talk," Norman said. "He told me, 'Nobody in the world wants you to win more than I do.'

"That got me a little choked up, coming from the greatest player I've ever seen play golf. He talked about grip pressure which aids relaxation . He said everything else will fall into place."

Two books written by Nicklaus, which Norman read as a youngster in Australia, helped hook him on golf. He went from a handicap of 27 to scratch in two years.

In the last several years, Norman has won enough money (nearly $650,000 so far this year) and championships to plant himself on the next-to-highest plateau.

This one gets him started toward the highest. Youthful fantasies had his first major coming in the Masters or British Open, because they were the tournaments he could see on television. "I practice a lot that way," he said. "Standing on the practice tee, I'll say, 'I need to get this 4-iron on the green and two-putt to win the British Open.' "

Ironically, he hit a 4-iron to the final green today. He could have six-putted from 18 feet and still won by a shot. It was a bad swing with a 4-iron that had caused him to bogey the final hole of the Masters and miss a playoff with Nicklaus.

The worst trouble was the mob that engulfed him on the 18th fairway after that final approach. A marshal was knocked down and stepped on, but everybody eventually made it to safety.

When Norman tapped the ball in, he embraced his caddie. His wife Laura bounded toward him, and soon both were squirted with champagne by another friend, John Sullivan, who caddied here this week for Mac O'Grady.

Nicklaus made it a point also to be among the first to offer congratulations. Earlier in the week, he had said: "If Greg doesn't win it, something is wrong."

That was a concern, to Norman and those close to him, that there was some sort of final-round flaw that would keep him from realizing his staggering potential.

He led the Masters this year by a stroke going into the final round -- and lost. He led the U.S. Open this year by a stroke going into the final round -- and lost. To have seen the one-stroke lead he carried into these final 18 holes slip away would have been especially troubling.

It's one thing to lose to a memorable charge by Nicklaus, as Norman did in the Masters. No big trauma to see a buddy, Ray Floyd, win the Open. Being beaten by Tommy Nakajima, Brand or Woosnam, under these conditions, would be embarrassing.

They are fine players, and they deserved to be so close after 54 holes. One of them figured to be champion here only if Norman stumbled.

He didn't.

They sort of did, which was expected.

Norman's lead over Nakajima increased from one to three shots before they left the first green, as the Japanese mis-hit his fairway shot and three-putted from four feet.

At the third hole, it seemed that fate was on the side of Norman. Wide with his second shot, he turned a likely bogey into a birdie by sinking a 75-foot bunker shot.

Even Norman conceded that the tournament was his after a five-foot birdie on No. 8, which followed another brilliant 4-iron.

"I said to myself, 'Well, guys, I'm playing too good. I've shut the gate, sealed it.' "

He seemed to open it a bit a hole later, by air-mailing a 6-iron close enough to a grandstand to require relief. Helpfully, he learned of a rule that allowed him to drop closer to the hole.

He got up and down for par. A few holes later, when nobody remotely close was making any substantial movement, Norman shrugged whatever-sized monkey had been on his shoulders in prior majors and blanked the flag with irons.

The player regarded as best before this week, Seve Ballesteros, shot 64 this morning, before the sun joined the huge crowd and the wind took a powder. All that got Ballesteros to was 8 over, and tied for sixth.

"This round was even better than the second-round 63," Norman said, possibly being serious. "Some of the irons I hit on the back nine at Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16 even I was impressed with."

On the 71st green, facing a 4 1/2-foot birdie putt, Norman's mind "went dead. I told Pete to line up the putt because I couldn't see the hole."

This was the flat feeling he had experienced before the final round of the U.S. Open -- and worked quite hard this morning to avoid. Norman stabbed the putt by but sank the next one.

Bender reminded his man that there still was one more hole to play. Up ahead, Alex Harvey knew the same thing. And when Norman finished his fine work, when the cheering started all around the golfing world, Harvey was able to start engraving the 61st name on the championship trophy: "Greg Norman, at Turnberry, 280 strokes."