x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bjorn has no ghosts of past to bury at British Open

Joint leader returns to Royal St George's, where he was denied title in 2003, looking forward and not brooding over that miss. Hole-in-one video

Thomas Bjorn, the Danish player, says the only way he plays golf is by staying focused on the shot in front of him.
Thomas Bjorn, the Danish player, says the only way he plays golf is by staying focused on the shot in front of him.

Enough about 2003. Thomas Bjorn is trying to create some new memories at Royal St George's.

Bjorn opened with a five-under -par 65 to claim a share of the lead with Tom Lewis, the amateur player, in the British Open, the major title he was denied the last time it came to this course at Sandwich on the English seaside.

Not that he is dwelling on what happened eight years ago. "I'm 40 years old," the Dane said, "and there might just be a little bit more in me."

Bjorn ripped off three successive birdies coming down the stretch. Even with a stumble at the final hole, he was in the clubhouse with a share of the lead with Lewis.

They are a shot ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lucas Glover, the American, and six strokes ahead of US Open champion Rory McIlroy, who got off to a sluggish start and had to settle for a 71.

While McIlroy was the clear favourite, Bjorn did not even get into the tournament until Monday as an alternate, giving him a chance to make up for his collapse in 2003.

That was when he squandered a two-stroke lead over the final three holes, largely by needing three swings to escape a bunker on the par-three 16th. Ben Curtis went on to claim the Claret Jug in one of golf's greatest shockers.

"I probably didn't dwell on it as much as some people thought," Bjorn said.

"I think the only really hard time I had with it was when I came back to Troon the year after. I felt that was difficult because it just became so fresh in the mind: the Open championship."

Bjorn got some good fortune at the 16th this time. He thought his nine-iron was heading for the bunker, but the ball took a fortunate bounce and rolled down toward the cup. He made the putt for his third birdie in a row.

"We all know what it's like," Bjorn said. "A bounce here or there, and then it goes either wrong or right. Today, it went my way."

Through it all, there was no thought of trying to make up for the last Open at Royal St George's.

"A lot of people make a lot of things about that, but the only way I can play golf is to concentrate on the shot in front of me," he said. "It never entered my mind." At least, it appears, he won't have to worry about Curtis. The American will have trouble just making the cut after shooting a 77.

England's Luke Donald, ranked No 1 in the world and coming off a four-stroke win in Scottish Open, was playing right behind McIlroy had the same mixed fortunes as the Northern Irishman, carding an identical 71.

Hole-in-one for Johnson

Dustin Johnson, one of the top American hopes, got off to a dismal start but turned things around with an amazing finish as he made a hole-in-one at the 16th, the ball hooking onto the green, catching the flag stick - and disappearing from view.

The Americans are eager for Johnson - or anyone - to break through. The US has gone five consecutive majors without a title, its longest drought in the modern grand slam era.

Bjorn played well early in the year, winning the Qatar Masters against a strong field and beating Tiger Woods in the World Match Play Championship.

But the Dane missed the cuts in four of five events before the Open and needed help just to make it to the first tee.

He was the last player into the field, getting his spot on Monday night when Vijay Singh withdrew.

"I've been very uncomfortable on the golf course for a long time," Bjorn said. "If I can last all the way until Sunday, well, only time will tell. But I'm very, very delighted with today."

The other surprise package of the day was Lewis, aged 20, who carded seven birdies in a sensational round to belie his amateur status.

Lewis's score also set a new record for the lowest individual score by an amateur at the British Open, beating the previous best of 66 shared by Frank Stranahan, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

He finished with four birdies in the final five holes.

The 47-year-old Jimenez was right in the mix as well. The Spaniard capped off a bogey-free round with a brilliant chip at the 18th, saving par with a short putt after he drove into the tall grass.

The weather is always the biggest unknown at the British Open. Punishing gusts whipped across Royal St George's during the practice rounds, and storms can blow in off the sea at any time.

The wind was not quite as daunting yesterday, at least for those who went out in the morning, and there was only an occasional splattering of rain despite threatening skies.

Louis Oosthuizen, the defending champion hit 72, and Phil Mickelson, the last American to win a major, finished on level par 70.