Bjorn strikes back with a vengeance

Thomas Björn birdied the 16th where the 2003 Open exploded in his face and led the 2011 Open midway through day one.

Thomas Björn has birdied the hole at Royal St George’s where the 2003 Open Championship blew-up in his face and has stormed to an amazing first-round 5-under 65 in the 140th Open Championship at the unforgiving and sometimes soul-destroying Sandwhich links layout.

The 41-year-old, who famously lead The 2003 Open here by three shots with four holes to play, but saw his lead wiped out when he took three shots to escape from a greenside bunker on the 16th, opened his 2011 challenge with a vengeance to take an early lead in the clubhouse that won’t easily be bettered.

And this after only just making it into the championship at the last minute.

He was called up on Monday when Vijay Singh became the sixth player to withdraw, in his case with an injury.

“It was not very nice being first reserve on Monday, but I decided to treat it as a bit of a joyride if I got in,” said Bjorn.

“It gave me a bit of a boost on Monday when I got in and it’s a good start. There’s a lot involved after what happened in 2003 and I was just happy to get in first of all.

“A lot of people make a lot of things about that (2003), but the only way I can play golf is to concentrate on the shot in front of me. It never entered my mind.

“I’ve not had good form of late so it’s a bit of a surprise to me how well I played. I just tried to enjoy being here, and I’m absolutely delighted.”

After saving par after over-flying the green on the downwind first, Björn holed from 14 feet for a birdie on the second and from close range on the seventh and eighth to pick up further shots.

A short missed putt on the ninth halted his momentum, but more birdies followed on the 12th and 14th.

And all this while players of the calibre of World No 1 Luke Donald and recent US Open winner Rory McIlroy were finding that even breaking par was a mission on a mildly windy day. Both opened with 1-over 71s

A pitch to four feet on the 15th brought Bjorn yet another birdie and a superb tee shot to that infamous 16th that cost him so much eight years ago set up yet another birdie, taking him to an astonishing six under par and into a three shot lead.

A little sadly, though it was no train-crash, the flying Dane bogeyed the last after a poor chip from short of the green, but clearly didn’t mind too much, his five-under tally still being his best score by three shots in his 14 Open Championship appearances.

It was also four better than his lowest round here eight years ago when he could so easily have won.

A little bit later on he would see his initial two shot lead slip to just one shot when wily Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez eased in with a rock-solid four-birdie, four-under 66.

At this stage England’s Simon Dyson was in third place in the clubhouse after shooting a 2-under 68, but Spain’s come-back kid Sergio Garcia was up there with him, also at two under, with two holes to play.

Then, led by another Englishman, Danny Willet, who shot a 1-under 69 on the par-70 Royal St George’s classical championship links course, came a logjam of players on 1-under, including former Open champion Mark Calcavecchia, fellow American Ryan Moore, who both shots opening 69s and Japan’s Yuta Ikeda, colourful Englishman Ian Poulter and the big-hitting American Dustin Johnson who all had only the 18th to play.

Players had been struggling to even reach the seventh fairway in their practice rounds in strong winds on Tuesday and Wednesday, with tournament officials admitting that tees would have to be moved forward if similar conditions persisted.

Rory McIlroy came into The 140th Open Championship as favourite following his record-breaking US Open victory at Congressional last month, but since then he has not fired a shot in anger and lacked some of his Congressional sharpness with his irons and his putter and was always struggling to break par.

To a big roar from the crowd, the Northern Irish star finally carded his first birdie of the day on the eighth to improve to one over after his approach caught a slope to the left of the flag and rolled down to within eight feet of the cup.