LONDON // Thomas Bjorn, playing his first tournament for 10 weeks, wasted no time making the headlines at The Belfry yesterday - both for his golf and his comments afterwards. The Dane, out of action with shoulder trouble, fired a three-under-par 69 when the Quinn Direct British Masters began, and that was good enough for a share of the early clubhouse lead.
Giving him company was his fellow golfinDubai brand ambassador and India's Jeev Milkha Singh. Both shared the joint lead for a brief while before the Australian Marcus Fraser and Sweden's Mikael Lundberg took over with two shots less. A bunch of players were also sandwiched in between, prominently among them was Lee Westwood at four-under. That was in stark contrast to Darren Clarke and Open Championship star Chris Wood, both of whom signed for rounds of 80.
Clarke had a quadruple-bogey eight at the 445-yard sixth, while Wood, now a professional, hit three drives out of bounds in running up a 10 at the 384-yard 13th. Bjorn is chairman of the players' committee that will decide the next Ryder Cup captain, and his comments afterwards should bring down the odds on Jose Maria Olazabal taking over from Nick Faldo. First of all ruling himself out of the job - "I am only 37 and I don't think I was ever in the equation" - he added: "We're not in any rush and we've decided to let the dust settle over this one."
Although the matter could be discussed in Scotland next week, it will be a meeting in the Middle East in January where the captaincy will be put on the agenda, but possibly even later before an announcement is made. Olazabal, Faldo's assistant last week, said he was hoping to be back on the team in Wales in 2010, but after missing much of this season with health issues there remains a question mark over his playing career and he might be given time to decide on the captaincy.
Sandy Lyle is the other leading candidate and had Colin Montgomerie speak up for him. Bjorn declined the chance to commentate on last week's match because he wanted to prepare for this tournament. After such a long lay-off he had no great expectations. "I was thinking 78-79 and home on Saturday, so everything was positive," he said. "I was a bit rusty, but my short game came nicely. The tendon trouble was really worrying me, but it's fully mended now and I've no pain."
Westwood and Graeme McDowell, the only two members of last week's Ryder Cup side, are also in the fray, as was Montgomerie. * PA Sport