THE Dane is feeling great again. Even Thomas Bjorn himself was taken aback, though, by his ten-under-par 62 in the weather-
interrupted opening round of the £3.9 million BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
It set a new course record –Swede Robert Karlsson shot the same score in 2010 but the layout at the Surrey venue has since been altered – and earned Bjorn a two-shot clubhouse lead over Irishman Shane Lowry with 33 players still to complete the first circuit.
“Last week was awful,” admitted the 43-year-old of missing the cut in the Spanish Open with rounds of 75 and 78 in Girona. “So, to go out on this golf course, where I haven’t had the best record, and play like I did today, is a little bit surprising.”
The statistics back that up. Bjorn’s best finish in 16 previous appearances in the European Tour’s flagship event is fifth back in 1998. Since changes were made by Ernie Els, he’s missed a cut and twice finished outside the top 40.
It’s early days, but something better is in the offing this time around. On a course that had been softened by heavy overnight rain, Bjorn didn’t put a foot wrong. In the company of Stephen Gallacher, he racked up eight birdies and an eagle, the latter, at the 12th, helping him storm home in 30.
With impeccable timing, the leader was signing for his scorecard when the klaxon sounded outside to signal the first of two suspensions due to a lightning threat.
“Stephen looked at me and said, ‘You’re not having too bad a day, are you?’” remarked Bjorn, smiling, of that particular good fortune.
Having lived on the Wentworth estate for nine years, Bjorn has no excuses for taking so long to post a memorable score on the famous Burma Road. “The best one, absolutely,” he declared when asked where it ranked in his career.
It was built on accuracy from the tee. “On this course, you’ve got to keep out of all Ernie’s bunkers to have a chance,” noted Bjorn, 15 times a European Tour winner. “It’s not a place I come to and think, ‘Oh this is going to be a great week’. But golf is just so funny.
“You wake up on the right sight of the bed and you feel great and you walk out and play great. Then, the next day, you wake up on the wrong side and it’s completely gone.”
Not that long ago, Bjorn, the Tour’s tournament committee chairman, felt he was constantly getting out of bed on the wrong side. His passion for the game had been drained and he once complained of being beset by demons. The spring is back in his step, though. Helped by winning the luc-rative Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, he’s leading this year’s Race to Dubai. Lying third in the qualifying race, Bjorn is also on course to be on Europe’s team for the Ryder Cup at Glen-eagles in September.
“Hard work and a determination not to let a golf career fade away,” he replied to being asked if there was a secret to being ‘Bjorn again’.
“I feel great about Tour life,” he continued. “I feel great about golf. I enjoy being out here, which I probably didn’t a couple of years ago.
“I have travelled with my golf clubs since I was 14 years old and sometimes you forget why you love the game and it becomes hard. This Tour can be a lonely, hard place when you are not playing well.
“I sat down, had a hard look at myself, and thought through what I really felt about this game and how I wanted to approach it. You quickly find out that it’s the only thing you really want to do.”
Both of Bjorn’s previous Ryder Cup appearances were as a winning team member – at Valderrama in 1997 then, five years later, at The Belfry.
Having won the 2011 Johnnie Walker Championship over the PGA Centen-ary Course, his credentials are certainly appealing for the latest instalment of the biennial bout.
“It’s 12 years since I was in the team so it would be a great thing to get back,” he confessed. “I’ve watched a lot from the sidelines (as an assistant captain) and as great as it is to be there, that can also hurt a bit at times.”
On a day when the morning starters enjoyed the more fav-ourable conditions, Lowry had to put up with two disruptions before completing his round, which was illuminated by ten birdies.
The 27-year-old was on the 16th when play was initially halted for 45 minutes. He’d then reached the 18th tee when another thunderstorm swept over, forcing a second delay that lasted an hour and three-quarters.
“I’ve been struggling a bit so far so this season,” said the two-times Tour winner after finally making it home in 64. “My best finish was last week, tied for 15th. I’ve gone back to an old putter that I used years ago. It’s maybe brought back good memories and hopefully it will keep going.”
In a bogey-free effort, Gallacher signed for a 70. It proved a popular score among the Scots given that it was subsequently matched by Richie Ramsay, Craig Lee and Peter Whiteford. “That is as good as I have played for a while,” reported Gallacher, fourth here in 2010. “I hit my irons lovely and gave myself a lot of chances but I just couldn’t quite convert them.”
The same certainly couldn’t be said of Bjorn.