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Arm injury clouds Norman's future

Norman had shoulder surgery last week, and it was serious enough that he is expected to be out at least six months. Although it may be hard to believe, Norman, who until recently was the No. 2-ranked player in the world, is 43.

He is in superb physical condition and still possesses the skills to compete with the game's young players, but golfers in their 40s typically have seen their best days.

Of course for Norman, thinking back brings bittersweet memories. He has won two British Opens, 18 PGA Tour titles, 73 tournaments around the world. He is the PGA Tour's all-time leading money winner with more than $11-million and probably has amassed 10 times that amount off the course.

But then there is his legacy: He has lost all four of the major championships in playoffs and finished second in those same tournaments eight times. His collapse during the final round of the Masters two years ago, when he shot 78 and allowed Nick Faldo to come from six strokes back to win, is still painful for those who watched it.

"If he'd won that green jacket, you wonder whether he would have worked himself as hard over the last couple of years to get in the physical state he is," said New Zealander Frank Nobilo, a friend of Norman's. "It probably caused the shoulder damage."

Norman apparently was bothered by pain in his left shoulder for more than six months and said hitting 3,000 balls a week for most of his adult life was a factor.

Whether Norman can bounce back remains to be seen. The better question might be if he wants to. He doesn't need the money, has several thriving businesses to tend to and does not have the time to make up for all his near-misses.

No doubt, Norman loves a challenge. And this is a big one.

"You wonder whether he'll ever be able to regain those heights," Nobilo said. "Maybe we'll never see the best of Greg Norman, but we'll certainly see something very close. He's given his body to the game. I hope he comes back as quickly as possible, but you wonder."

FIRST PITCH: Nancy Lopez, wife of former major-league player and manager Ray Knight, threw out the first pitch at an Atlanta Braves game last week. "It was horrible. I hit the grass," she said. "When I told Ray, he was like, "What?' I was holding the ball with the seam and (Braves pitcher) Tom Glavine told me to go across the seam. I think if I threw it normal, I would have done it better. It will be the most pressure I feel all week. When the catcher kneeled down, he looked like he was in a hole. It was much worse than having a 3-footer to win a tournament."

MAJOR PLANS: His consecutive major-championship streak at 145 after the Masters, Jack Nicklaus said he will make a decision on playing in the British Open after this year's U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

"If I play well in the Open, I'll go to the British Open," said Nicklaus, 58, who tied for sixth at the Masters. "I'm opening a golf course in Manchester on Monday of the British Open anyway. I have to go there no matter what. If I don't (play), I'll just do site work on golf courses in Europe."

SPONSORSHIPS: National Car Rental is the new sponsor of the Walt Disney World Classic, played each October at the Disney Resort in Lake Buena Vista. The new name of the tournament is National Car Rental Golf Classic, and the format is being changed to just two pro-am days instead of three. The purse has been boosted to $2-million, with the winner receiving $360,000. This year's dates are Oct. 22-25. Spectators will be admitted free to the pro-am rounds of this year's JCPenney Classic at the Westin Innisbrook Resort. TransWorld Diversified Services is sponsoring the Dec. 1 and 2 Trans-World Days. The 72-hole mixed-team tournament is Dec. 3-6.

Junior golf

We'd like to find out about your junior golf program this summer. If you are interested in being included in a listing of such programs, please fax the pertinent information, including dates, cost and telephone numbers, to (813) 893-8782, attn: Bob Harig, by May 8. We will publish a list of area junior programs in an upcoming edition.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.