Greg Norman admits to a fascination with golf's major championships, so many of which have been snatched from his eager grasp.

"They speak for themselves. They are the majors," Norman said."I think everybody's dream when they turn professional is to win the major championships.

"They're what success is all about on our tour. We strive for them, work hard for them."

Norman made his comments after a practice round for 88th United States Open, which begins Thursday at The Country Club.

The white-haired Australian, who has been installed by Britain's legal bookies as a co-favorite with Spain's Seve Ballesteros, said past disappointments "only make me more determined."

Norman, regarded by many as golf's finest player, has had many flirtations with golf's majors, the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters and the PGA. He has won only one, the 1986 British Open.

He lost a playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller for the 1984 U.S. Open. He led through 54 holes of all four of the 1986 majors and lost three of them, one to Bob Tway's last-hole birdie from a bunker.

He lost a playoff to Larry Mize's historic playoff pitch-in birdie in the 1987 Masters.

Those near-misses serve as a spur to his ambitions, said Norman.

"I've been close. The closer you get, the more you want to go out and win as many as you can," he said.

"That all happened in the past. I can't think about that now. It's gone. There's nothing I can do about it.

"All I can do is try to win the next one, and the next one, and the next one."

His recent record insists he is a threat to do that.

Norman, who went into a slump after his 1987 Masters loss, is rebounding this year. He won three times in Australia early in the season, added the Italian Open and also won the Heritage Classic at Hilton Head Island, S.C.

"I've played well all year," said Norman, who now leads the American PGA Tour in five of 10 statistical categories. "I had that bit of a flat spell in '87, but I've played well since then.

"I feel I could have won six of the nine tournaments I've played in the States this year."

Norman has lost two playoffs, the latest last Sunday in the Westchester Classic. He also has recorded finishes of third, fifth and sixth.

"I'm enjoying my game more now than ever have done. I enjoy my life more now than ever have done. I feel much more at peace with myself. I know my game getting better. Everything is heading upwards," he said.

"I feel like the momentum is just building now, like I'm just catching a big wave and starting to ride it.

"I don't feel as if my prime years have even started yet. I look forward to playing good, solid golf for another 15-16 years and winning as many championships as I can."

Other major foreign contenders in the Open include South African David Frost, Masters champion Sandy Lyle of Scotland, British Open titleholder Nick Faldo of England and West German Bernhard Langer.

The leading Americans include defending champion Scott Simpson, PGA champ Larry Nelson, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Payl Azinger, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart.