Then his tournament rustiness kicked in.
Norman's concentration wavered when a clump of grass blew across his ball in a greenside bunker on his 16th hole. Instead of pausing, he hit anyway
-- and didn't make it out, the ball rolling back to nearly the same spot. Then it happened again. Norman wound up with a double bogey. Another concentration lapse on the next hole resulted in a three-putt from about 12 feet for a bogey.
After coming up inches short of a birdie on the final hole, Norman walked off with an even-par round of 70
-- tied for 40th, along with 18 others.
"I pretty much let a good one get away," Norman said. "You need the feel for tournament play and I don't have it. At the end of the day, I did hit some quality shots out there, so you know they're still in the system."
This is Norman's second PGA Tour start of the year, but only his fifth in four years. He's trying to make the cut for the first time since the 2005 British Open.
"I would like to make the cut, obviously. I'm certainly not going to walk around here and be a ceremonial golfer," Norman said. "At least I know I can get it to 3-, 4-, 5-under par around here. So we'll see what I can do tomorrow."
The field is chasing John Merrick, who holed a roughly 50-foot putt on his final shot for a 6-under 64 and the lead all by himself.
"It was one of those days where everything kind of went your way," said Merrick, who shot a 64 in the first round of this event last year, too, but couldn't sustain it. His score went up each round and he finished tied for 48th.
Larry Mize, who beat Norman in a memorable playoff at the 1987 Masters, was among four players at 65.
John Daly, Tommy Gainey and Brian Gay shot 66s. Gainey, nicknamed "Two Gloves," is in his first year on the tour, but already known to golf buffs because of his appearances on The Golf Channel's "Big Break."
Reigning champion Fred Funk may not be around to defend his title this weekend. Funk opened with a birdie, giving hope to chasing the course-record 62 he shot in the opening round of last year's tournament, but he followed with two bogeys and never made it back to par. He finished with a 3-over 73, tied for 95th.
Wearing a white ballcap instead of his trademark wide brim, Norman opened on No. 10 and parred his first three holes. Along the way, playing partners Tim Herron and Jose Coceres pumped him for a little inside information. Herron asked how often Norman plays in Mexico, while Coceres wondered about the background of this course, the 6,923-yard El Camaleon.
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At the par-5 13th, Norman attacked like, well, he designed it. A long drive down the middle was followed by a fairway wood launched into a stiff wind that left him smiling. He chipped to about 10 feet, then made the putt for a birdie.
He narrowly missed birdies on the next two holes, the second one rimming out. Then the Shark showed his fangs. Birdies on three of the next four holes dropped him to 4-under and a tie for fifth place.
His round fell apart at No. 7, a 116-yard par 3 that goes right at white sand and the Caribbean Sea. Norman's tee shot was short right of the green, in the bottom of a shell-shaped sand trap.
Considering what happened after that, might he invoke some executive privilege and order it filled in, or maybe the lip shaved down, before the second round?
"Nah," he said, laughing. "It was a weird thing, actually. ... I think I'm a better bunker player than that."
At 53 and already in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Norman rarely tees it up on the PGA Tour any more, devoting his time to his variety of thriving businesses.
He played only two events in 2005, once in '06 and none in '07. He got a little bit of a tune up for this event by playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am a few weeks ago.
Norman said his health is just fine, except for a head cold that left him blowing his nose throughout the round.
"Maybe that had something to do with my concentration," he said. "Nah, you can't blame it on that, really."
[Associated Press; By JAIME ARON]
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