Norman keeping expectations low after surprising start at British Open

SOUTHPORT, England -- There was a time when his name on the leaderboard would have been expected, perhaps producing a tinge of anxiety among those around him.

Today, seeing Greg Norman in contention at the Open Championship elicits surprise and wonder.

The erstwhile No. 1 player in the world is a part-time golfer at best, still on an extended honeymoon with new wife and tennis legend Chris Evert. And yet he managed to shoot even-par 70 at Royal Birkdale on Thursday in some pretty awful conditions.

"I don't play much, I don't practice much, but at the same time, there's something about this event that stimulates you," said Norman.

"The atmosphere here, the excitement, it changes. Like coming down 18 after 5½ hours of golf, the way people receive you. You don't get that anywhere else in the world. It's a phenomenal experience. It gives you a little more juice than what you normally would have."

Norman made two birdies, two bogeys and 14 pars on a day most people would have preferred to stay indoors.

Not bad for a 53-year-old entrepreneur whose time in the game has passed. The two-time Open champion has played just five events this year, missing the cut in all three of his PGA Tour appearances while finishing tied for seventh and tied for 14th in two European events. (He also played in the Senior PGA Championship, where he tied for 6th.)

Makes you wonder what would happen if he put his mind to it.

"My mind still wants to play, but my body doesn't want to practice," said Norman, who owned the record for most weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking at 331 until Tiger Woods passed him. "I've gone through enough pain and surgery over the last four, five, six years that I just don't want to do it anymore.

"Believe me, I still enjoy playing, but I didn't enjoy standing out there on the driving range for four, five, six hours a day. And on top of that, the other side of my life is absolutely fantastic."

Norman, who reportedly is on the hook for a $103 million divorce settlement with his ex-wife, played just three practice rounds before the Open.

"I've got to keep my expectations realistically low, to be honest with you," he said. "I haven't played a lot of golf. … It's just like riding a bike. But even riding a bike, sometimes after a long time you're a little wobbly. I've just got to manage the process the best I can.

"I still haven't hit a lot of golf balls. These conditions are very, very trying, and all I'm trying to do is put the clubface square on the ball. … Tomorrow is another day. I want to make sure that first tee shot gets off the tee the right way. I mean, it's the toughest opening-hole tee shot I've ever experienced knowing what lurks right there, so you just approach it that way. That's the way I approached my golf before. No matter what situation that I was in, I just approached it one shot at a time."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.