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Not only is the 54-hole Shark Shootout his

By Doug FergusonAssociated Press Published: November 16, 1998 12:00 AM

Not only is the 54-hole Shark Shootout his own tournament, the two-man team competition gave Norman some room to work out the rough spots from being out of the game the past seven months after surgery on his left shoulder.

And Steve Elkington, his fellow Australian, had won this tournament twice in the past four years and knows Norman's game as well as anyone.

What a team: They closed with a 14-under 58 in the scramble format.

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What a finish: With Elkington knocking down flags and Norman making the putts, they birdied the last hole to force a playoff and then beat John Cook and Peter Jacobsen on the third sudden-death hole.

What a way for Norman to splash back onto the scene: He won his own tournament for the first time in its 10-year history.

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"It was a perfect place for me to come back," Norman said. "It was just a good, solid return."

Norman still needs at least a few more tournaments to find his touch and his confidence, but he showed Sunday at Sherwood Country Club that he has not lost his flair for the dramatic.

Just when it seemed Team Aussie was running out of holes, Norman came up with two approach shots that stopped 6 feet from the hole that Elkington converted into birdies.

And while Norman struggled slightly with his iron play on the 18th, he was pure with the putter. He made an 8-footer to force a playoff, a 10-footer on the same hole to extend the playoff and a 2-footer _ all courtesy of Elkington _ to win.

"I knew I had a good horse, but I had to pull my weight, too," Norman said. "It was a very satisfying week."

Cook and Jacobsen made four eagles in their round of 17-under 55, which tied the tournament record set in 1993 by Norman and Nick Price. Both teams finished at 189.

Norman and Elkington each won $160,000 from the $1.3 million purse.

More importantly for Norman, it was a huge first step toward making a strong return to golf. He'll play the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend, and then two events that will matter a little bit more _ the Australian Open, followed by the Presidents Cup.

"I might be geared a little bit more for the Australian Open now," Norman said.

With every day, Norman began to visualize shots the way he used to in winning at least once on the PGA Tour each of the past six years _ before surgery April 22 that forced him to miss the rest of the season and three major championships.

The team event allowed him to ease back into golf, which was evident in the first round during the alternate-shot format.

"We both drove it down there and had 260 to the green over water," Elkington said. "Greg would have said 100 times out of 100, 'I'll hit it.' But he said, 'You go again.' He was just tiptoeing along and taking bigger steps as the week went, and now he's kind of striding. But he's not 100 percent."

Norman didn't have to be.

He would have been satisfied without winning the unofficial event. Norman simply wanted to make sure his shoulder would hold up, and he answered that by going hard after his tee shots without feeling so much as a tug.

And if there was any concern that he had lost his mental edge, Norman took a step toward recovering that, too.

On the first playoff hole, No. 18, Cook rescued his team by making a 20-foot birdie putt. Norman was the first to try a tricky 10-footer down the slope.

"I felt the rush you need to feel, all these aspects of the game you remember," he said. "I said to myself over that putt, 'You've done this many times before, just throw your mind back to when you made it.'

"The more I got under the gun, the more I got into the mode about

remember what I had to do."

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