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Greg Norman defends home appearance record

Just over two months from his 50th birthday, and at the end of one of his most disappointing seasons on the golf course, Greg Norman was back home Tuesday defending himself against claims that he's selfish and doesn't help the sport in Australia.

Norman's private jet was still cooling down on the tarmac at a local airport when he appeared at a news conference for the Australian PGA Championship at the Hyatt Regency Resort Course. He's entered in the championship that starts Thursday.

Last Sunday, Australian senior star Bruce Devlin criticized Norman for not returning last week for the 100th anniversary of the Australian Open, a tournament that Norman has won five times.

Devlin said Norman was "selfish" and should do more to publicly thank the many Australians who have supported him in the past.

"I haven't read his comments, but considering I've played the Australian Open 23 times in my career, I have supported the event as well as any other Australian professional," Norman said. "I think my track record speaks for itself -- I have been coming back here year after year, bar none, for 27 years, to support Australian golf."

Norman hasn't played the Australian Open in four years because it usually coincides with the American Thanksgiving holiday.

"It's my life, and I like to spend time with my family," he said. "My children are in college in the U.S., the only time they come home are for long weekends like Thanksgiving.

"I think if you asked the general public the consensus would be spending time with your family is probably more important to any golf tournament. I'm not disappointed (with the criticism), I just expect it I suppose."

Norman is disappointed with his golf game this year -- he missed cuts in six of the seven regular tournaments he played in. But the good news is that his chronic back problem is on the mend _ although he admits he's felt like this before.

"It doesn't make you feel great to miss cuts," said Norman, adding, although not needing to, that he "makes more money off the golf course now than I do on the golf course."

"For 30 months now, I've had instances where I could not even get out of bed because of the back pain," Norman added. "I had some work done on it last week in Pittsburgh (by a neuro-spinal specialist who works with the Pittsburgh Steelers football team) and it's absolutely fabulous."

Norman will turn 50 on Feb. 10 -- about a week after he makes his next Australian appearance at the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne -- along with defending champion Ernie Els.

His first appearance on the Champions Tour will likely be the Senior TPC in July of next year, followed by the British Open and Senior British Open.

Norman said his past comments about the senior tour -- that he would not play on it -- have been taken out of context.

"I said I would not play a full schedule," said Norman. "I will play some senior tour events and the majority of the regular PGA tour events."

Norman says the chances of him winning this week at the Australian PGA are not high, although "I still passionately believe in myself."

Also entered in the PGA is Adam Scott, who was a passenger on Norman's jet after Scott competed in the Skins last weekend in La Quinta, California against Annika Sorenstam, Tiger Woods and Fred Couples. Others entered at Coolum include defending champion Peter Senior of Australia, former winner and last week's Australian Open champion Peter Lonard and Americans Corey Pavin and Bob Estes.

Norman will have his friend and U.S. PGA Tour tournament director Slugger White as his caddie. Last year, former No. 1 tennis player Lleyton Hewitt of Australia was on his bag.

It should be like old home week for the first two rounds when Norman plays in a group with Scott, who now uses Norman's longtime caddie, Tony Navarro.

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