Everyone at Coolum is talking about dinosaurs but it was the Shark who had the most vicious bite on the PGA eve, with the Australian golf giant saying it will be Rory McIlroy - not Tiger Woods - who breaks the major record held by Jack Nicklaus.
During his streak of supremacy in the late '90s and early 2000s, Woods was unstoppable. It was simply assumed that the Golden Bear's mark of 18 major titles would be crushed under his spikes. But with his invincibility on the course spectacularly undone by his fallibility off the greens, Woods's career has stalled at 14 titles, while Northern Ireland's world No 1 McIlroy has collected a pair at just 23.
Woods is only 36 but Greg Norman, who is playing in the Australian PGA starting on Thursday, believes the American's dominance is gone for good and he'll be unable to win anything near the five remaining titles required to stand alone on top of the record books.
"I don't care how many you have won; it just becomes a little bit more difficult,'' Norman said. ''He might win one or two more but I don't think he will win the four or five more that he needs to win to break the record.
"Every year that passes by that he hasn't won a major it just gets that much harder to win a major."
Proclaiming the end of the Woods era isn't a huge stretch for Norman, who has spoken along similar lines in the past. But given McIlroy has to win 13 to surpass Woods and 17 to be the game's greatest player, it's a substantial leap to anoint McIlroy as the man to break the Nicklaus barrier.
Norman believes a more settled life outside golf will give McIlroy the advantage on Woods, who had the veneer of a happy family man before his personal life was laid bare.
"I think if anybody can break Nicklaus's record I think he [McIlroy] could, because he is young, he is ahead of the game, he is ahead of the curve on a lot of things and he has a very balanced life across the board," Norman said. ''So I will keep my fingers crossed for him because I would love to see that happen because somebody will do it one day, and it could be Rory."
Norman's global slant in a marathon news conference was a rare departure from the thoroughly bizarre pre-tournament talking point, an enormous robotic dinosaur named ''Jeff'' that towers over the ninth green and 10th tee.
The resort's new owner, Clive Palmer, has installed the 8.5 metre bipedal carnivore, apparently the first of many around the Coolum layout, to bring extra visitors and, despite being switched off for tournament days, it has taken on a life of his own.
Jeff has his own Twitter account (83 followers by late Wednesday) and has drawn bemused looks from players and pro-am spectators, while Norman compared Palmer's love of dinosaurs with his love of cars.
It's uncommon to see golfing greats discuss the merits of apex predators from the upper Cretaceous period the day before a major tournament but wackiness tends to follow whenever Palmer, the Queensland mining billionaire, mixes business with sport.
"I think Clive Palmer is trying to create an attraction here; he obviously has a love affair for dinosaurs; there is nothing wrong with that. I used to have love affairs for cars so there is nothing wrong with that either," Norman said. "Obviously he has got to be very sensitive and aware of being a golf-centric area that this is, but at the end of the day he is obviously trying to create some economic uptake with tourism around here."
There is even going to be a special rule enacted referring to Jeff by name and providing golfers with instructions should they clatter a shot into his enormous hind legs.
Last year's British Open champion, Darren Clarke, said he had noticed a few subtle differences on and around the course, which also features spray-painted signs spruiking Palmer's companies, his project to rebuild the Titanic and a giant American flag. "Yes, it would be silly of me not to notice them. Interesting," Clarke said.
Players will get a drop if their ball lands on the painted areas but the affable Northern Irishman said it wouldn't make a huge difference on the scoreboard.
"Just because there are a few things out there it isn't going to make any difference to the shots that we are hitting," Clarke said.
- Brisbane Times
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