Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, cruelly denied his first major win when the British Open was last held at Royal St George’s, went some way to banishing the demons of his late 2003 collapse by snatching the early lead in Thursday’s first round.
The 40-year-old, handed a last-gasp place in the 140th edition of the oldest major championship in golf when Fiji’s Vijay Singh pulled out on Monday, made light of windy conditions on the Kent coast to fire a five-under-par 65.
“Today was a massive step in the right direction for me because mentally I was very strong,” Bjorn told reporters. “I stayed with it all the way round the course — sometimes that’s a problem for me. One thing I’ve been struggling with of late is to get off to a decent start. That also happened today so it was a good day in a lot of ways.”
While Bjorn was flying high after reeling off four birdies in five holes on the back nine, tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was struggling to make an impact on two-over-par after 16. The 22-year-old Briton, prompted groans from his army of fans when he three-putted the first hole.
Blunder in 2003
Bjorn was three strokes ahead with four holes to play in the 2003 Open before a calamitous bogey-double bogey-bogey run effectively handed the Claret Jug trophy to American Ben Curtis.
This time, Bjorn spoiled his run of birdies when a poor chip at the 18th led to a bogey but he was still ahead by one stroke from Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez (66). Britain’s Simon Dyson was on 68, two under.