Greg Norman could hardly believe the question posed to him by a local reporter after he shot a five-under-par round of 67 to sit one stroke off the clubhouse lead at the BMW Asian Open in Shanghai.
“Yes, I do think I can win the thing,” replied the Australian with a laugh and shake of the head.
Much will depend, as always, on how the Great White Shark’s back holds out over the next three days but he is set to start the second round firmly ensconced in the leading pack.
Norman carded five birdies and produced a gutsy effort to save par on the last to finish level with Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng on five under par, one shot behind the clubhouse leader Simon Dyson.
The Englishman, the former Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, boasts an impressive record of three wins from three tournaments in China and opened his campaign for a fourth with an excellent putting display at the Tomson Golf Club.
“It is a nice one to be leading by one over Greg Norman,” said Dyson.
“I putted really well and never missed a thing. I had three lip-outs and a horse-shoe as well. It just felt great.”
Dyson played in the group ahead of Norman and the two shared the lead on five under par before the Yorkshireman birdied the last to set the clubhouse target.
He was signing for his 66 when Norman pushed his tee shot right on the ninth - his 18th – and watched the ball skip off the cart path and under a tree.
Forced to play out sideways, Norman had to approach the green from the 16th fairway but he escaped with a five to preserve a bogey free round.
It is six years since Norman last won a tournament – his last triumph came, appropriately enough, at the Greg Norman Holden International in Australia – and nowadays he picks and chooses events as much around his business commitments as his desire to play the game he once dominated.
The reporter’s question may have been blunt, but Norman feels he is playing well enough to win here – if his creaking back holds out.
“Before I left home I felt pretty good about my golf swing to tell you the truth. Sometimes the travel is not great on my back but I’ve felt pretty good, which makes me feel relaxed in my mind about being able to play,” said Norman, who qualifies for the Champions Tour next year by virtue of turning 50.
“If my back is acting up, I can’t rotate into my golf swing and I get frustrated because I can’t hit the shots I’d like to hit.
“It felt pretty good today. The signs are there, I just keep my fingers crossed every morning when I wake up.”
Dyson missed the cut at the British Masters last week but his only blip today came with a bogey on the long 15th – his fourth – otherwise his seven birdies were enough for the clubhouse lead.
Marksaeng, playing alongside Norman, charged up the leaderboard after a double bogey seven on the second – his 11th – left him on one over par.
His response was remarkable. Four birdies and an eagle two on the par-four seventh, secured with a wedge, left him tied with Norman on five under par for the day.
Ireland’s Paul McGinley and Australian Marcus Both were level on four under par after each carded a solid 68.
The day began dramatically, with South African Chris Williams disqualified after failing to show up at the course for his 6.40am tee-off.
Tournament officials rang his hotel room and found him asleep, certain he was not due off until 11.20am.
It transpired he read the order of play incorrectly, mistaking his name for Welshman Craig Williams.