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Greg Norman looking forward to Champions Tour

Just over a week away from his 50th birthday, Greg Norman is looking forward to being a rookie again.

Back in Australia for the Heineken Classic, Norman said Tuesday he will play six or seven Champions Tour events this year after finally escaping that ``five-year period in your golfing career between 46 and 50 when you are wallowing around in a no man's zone.''

``You like to compete as a regular but are you as sharp as the younger players? No,'' Norman said. ``I should not speak for other players, but I found it a bit of a void.''

Norman, whose birthday is Feb. 10, said he had dinner with Raymond Floyd two weeks ago in Palm Beach, Florida, to check out the Champions Tour.

``I asked him, 'What if I went here, what if I went there? What are the hotels and airports like?''' Norman said. ``These were the things you would do when you were a rookie coming out at 18 years old in the United States or Europe or Australia.''

Norman looked fit as ever Thursday at Royal Melbourne, where he'll begin play Thursday with Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Adam Scott and Stuart Appleby, trying to prevent Els from winning the event for the fourth year in a row.

It should be a busy 2005 for Norman, who has his longtime back problems in check. He'll play the first week of March at the Dubai Desert Classic, then back to the United States for the TPC Championship, Bell South and Hilton Head tournaments.

His first Champions Tour event likely will be the Senior PGA Championship at Laurel Valley, outside Pittsburgh.

``Then I will play, with a bit of luck if I am exempt, all the senior major championships,'' Norman said. ``They run pretty tight between the end of June to the middle of August.

``It is a weird schedule for me, playing in a couple of other major championships. I will be playing eight out of 10 weeks . . . six major championships almost in a row.''

Included in that schedule is the British Open at St. Andrews from July 14-17 -- Norman's best chance to capture his third career major.

``I like St. Andrews, I have never won but I have performed well there over 25 years,'' Norman said. ``That type of venue would suit me. Going to a long golf course like Pinehurst (site of this year's U.S. Open), probably not. I'm not saying I am hitting it short but I am definitely not hitting it as far as the longer hitters. From a venue perspective, and if my game is sharp, I would have a chance.''

Norman said he is ``not 100 percent in my back and I never will be, even with surgery.''

``I've opted not to have surgery, just work out through physical therapy and training. That is why I am a lot more happy with myself because I really have a lot of things under control.''

He said his zest for life and the game gives him the confidence to even consider winning at St. Andrews.

``I have never felt more at peace with myself, where I am in the world and all that,'' Norman said. ``It is the balance I have in my life right now. If I feel this great at 50, I have plenty more great years ahead of me.''


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