Choi's two birdies thrust him into British Open lead

SOUTHPORT, England &

You knew the 137th British Open had gone completely wacko Friday when suddenly Chris Evert stood amid a gaggle of reporters discussing her new husband Greg Norman's backhand.

"He's got a big serve, but he loves hitting his ground strokes," the 18-time Grand Slam tennis champion said. "He loves the fact that he has both a slice backhand and a topspin backhand, sort of a Federer backhand, and his game's quite good considering that you never know if golfers can run."

It's like some surrealistic flashback around here, where most of the day Friday the leaderboards at Royal Birkdale showed the name "Norman" at the top at even par, golf's most venerable major shockingly headed by a 53-year-old businessman and part-time golfer who'd played zero of the last 11 majors and credits tennis &

tennis! &

with his abrupt resurgence.

Sure, some things do make sense, as when K.J. Choi, No. 11 in the world and clearly nibbling at major hardware for five years of luminous play, passed Norman late Friday to assume the lead at one under par and said, "My swing is very good this week, very powerful, simple."

It makes sense that at two over par heading for the weekend, Rocco Mediate contends in the Rocco Mediate At 45 Summer Happiness Tour, Jim Furyk contends in the major he originally figured to win way back when, defending champion Padraig Harrington contends with a champion's know-how, and on the outskirts of contention lurk bright lights Adam Scott (five behind) and Sergio Garcia (six behind).

It makes sense that the wind has served as sergeant-at-arms here even as it ebbed from sadistic Thursday to merely spiteful Friday with forecasts calling for a return to sadism on the weekend.

And while it doesn't make sense that Camilo Villegas, the dashing 26-year-old Colombian, wrung a jaw-dropping 65 with five closing birdies out of the first British Open of his life to get to one over, it still makes more sense than ...

Greg Norman.

First question: "Did you anticipate being in this position after 36 holes?"

Norman: "Nope."

The two-time British Open champion wildly famous for big talent and Sunday calamity, he'd become the first known person to shoot 70 and 70 while supposedly using the British Open as preparation for two senior opens. He'd become that rare individual to lead a British Open much of the day Friday after playing in two majors out of 18 in the last five years and by preparing with, well, a big wedding in the Bahamas.

He'd become that unusual case in which his wife said, "Last week he was voicing that he didn't think he was really that prepared for this."

For crying out loud, he credited tennis.

"I said this to Chris yesterday, the tennis I've been playing has been the best thing for me, because it keeps me loose, it's good on the cardiovascular, it's good on my lower back because it keeps it strong," he said.

True, he did look like somebody half his age stretching elastically over a sidehill, bunker-side horror on No. 16, chipping it to six feet for a save.

At this quirky British Open, Evert even said they've even discussed how if they'd happened to marry years ago, the very history of sports might've been altered. She might've fought through Martina Navratilova in more third sets, and he might've won more majors. "He could've brought more aggressiveness out in me" &

rather than playing it safe &

"and maybe I could have calmed him down," she said.

It's a retro theme, "like you're stepping back in time," Norman said, like the TV has come on and it's 1987 &

during one of Norman's 331 weeks at No. — in the world &

and, Evert said, "When you turned on the TV, you watched him. I watched a little bit of Ballesteros and a little bit of Jack Nicklaus ... " and Norman. "He's got that charisma. He's got that walk. In case any of you haven't noticed."

He has walked around Birkdale giving some credit to his stash of wisdom (he won at brutal Turnberry in 1986, for one thing) and some credit to his expectations, which he described as "nil," and some to the personal happiness he keeps extolling, and then, some credit to Rocco Mediate.

Having watched Mediate's tussle with Tiger Woods as did many an occasionally golfing businessman, Norman walked up to the resurgent Mediate on the putting green here and said, "Rocco, the best thing to happen to the game of golf was what you did at the U.S. Open. You've got a great player in Tiger Woods and stuff like that, but for everybody to see that you can put yourself in position no matter who you are or what you do or what your qualifications are or how old you are."

In some sense, then, it's perfect. The first major without Woods since 1996 winds up being, in part, the "no matter who you are" major.

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