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Norman Has Shoulder Partner Can Lean On

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just when you thought it was safe to return to the golf course, the Shark is back.

After 18 months of pain in his left shoulder, after major surgery, after seven months of rehabilitation, Greg Norman returned to competition Friday in the opening round of his own tournament, the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout, with a smile on his face and the power back in his swing.

“It was good to have the old man back,” said Steve Elkington, Norman’s partner in the three-day event at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. “He played well. It was almost like he was never away.”

Not quite.

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Norman, 43, said he’ll need at least five rounds to feel comfortable and regain his rhythm and touch. But that didn’t temper his joy Friday.

“It works, the surgery works. I have a 43-year-old shoulder here,” said Norman, pointing to his right side, “and a 24-year-old shoulder here.”

Norman and Elkington finished at five-under-par 67 in the alternate-ball format, two shots behind leaders John Daly and Fuzzy Zoeller. Costantino Rocca and Scott Hoch are second at 66.

In Friday’s format, both team members hit tee shots, the better shot being used. The golfer whose shot is not used hits next with the partners alternating until the ball is holed.

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“It’s going to take me a while to get back into the rhythm,” Norman said. “I’m still searching for it. I’ll probably be searching for it right up to the Australian Open [next month].”

The alternate-shot format can make it a little difficult to gauge an individual’s performance, but there was no problem gauging Daly’s tee shot on the 537-yard 16th hole, a dogleg right.

Daly cut the dogleg with a drive that cleared some trees to the left of a house, the ball coming to a stop 390 yards away.

“It’s a very difficult format if you put your partner in trouble,” Zoeller said.

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He was talking about that 16th hole, which turned out to be a nightmare for him.

After Daly’s towering drive left him 147 yards from the pin, Zoeller plunked the second shot into a bunker. Daly came out smoothly, rolling the ball three or four feet from the hole.

Zoeller blew the putt, leaving Daly to tap in for par.

But that hole turned out to be an aberration for a team that got seven birdies to take the first-round lead.

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That was particularly important, Zoeller said, in a tournament like this, in which the format changes each day, making it important to stay near the top in order to have a realistic hope of winning the $320,000 prize that goes to the top team among the 12 in the field. The format today is best ball.

“You can’t win this tournament in one day,” Zoeller said, “but you can lose it.”

Scott McCarron and Bruce Lietzke, the tournament’s defending champions, finished at even par, ahead of only one other team.

But Norman figured he was the day’s biggest winner for being able to finish at all for the first time in seven months.

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