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NORMAN'S LAST SHOT CUTS INTO ELS' LEAD

On his way to opening what would have been the biggest first-round lead in the 10-year history of the International, Ernie Els got blindsided.

Greg Norman holed out his approach shot on the last hole Thursday, reducing Els' lead to three points under the modified Stableford scoring system used in this unusual event.Playing in one of the day's final groups, Norman's 7-iron from 185 yards on the par-4 18th hole bounced once and disappeared into the cup. The eagle was worth five points and vaulted Norman to 14 points, trailing only the 17 points of Els.

"I just hit a perfect shot, and Tony (caddy Tony Navarro) called it in the air," said Norman, the PGA Tour's leading money-winner. "He said, `It's in.' I was plus-9 and going along great. That shot just put the icing on the cake, made my day that much sweeter."

Asked if he still got excited about hitting such shots, Norman said, "Especially when you do it in front of the clubhouse. I've hit a lot of perfect shots in my career, and sometimes I've ended up with bogey, so it evens out."

Norman's late heroics tended to overshadow the brilliant play of Els, who is determined to erase the disappointment of his final-round flameout in the PGA championship last week.

Els carded nine birdies, including four in a row, in a nearly flawless performance worth 17 points and - for several hours - a 6-point lead.

Grouped at plus-11 were Tom Kite, Davis Love III and Craig Stadler. At 10 were David Duval, Bob Tway and Lee Janzen. Defending champion Lowery struggled to a minus-1.

Tway and Janzen also benefited from eagles, worth five points under a scoring system that awards a player two points for birdie, 0 for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse. Scores are cumulative through all four rounds.

Play was suspended for 32 minutes at mid-afternoon because of lightning.