Bjorn and Lewis share Open lead

Updated: 15 July 2011 11:32 IST

A tearful Thomas Bjorn returned to the scene of his former heartbreak on Thursday to grab the first round lead in the British Open which he shares with 20-year-old English amateur Tom Lewis.

Bjorn and Lewis share Open lead

Sandwich:

A tearful Thomas Bjorn returned to the scene of his former heartbreak on Thursday to grab the first round lead in the British Open which he shares with 20-year-old English amateur Tom Lewis. (Also read: A rugged start, solid finish for McIlroy)

On a day when patchy rain and stiff sea breezes early on allowed Royal St George's to bare its teeth at the 156-strong field, the 41-year-old Dane seized the lead with a five-under 65 that included seven birdies.

That stood firm for most of a marathon day before the unheralded Lewis made his move in the early evening when conditions were considerably better.

One stroke back from that pair was 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, along with two Americans, 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover and Open debutant Webb Simpson.

Tournament favourite Rory McIlroy, the newly-crowned US Open champion, ended a three-week break by bogeying two of his first three holes, only to steady the ship and fire a one-over 71.

That was also where the top two ranking players in the world, English pair Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, ended the day, while top American hope Phil Mickelson, at 41, was just ahead of them at level par.

But it was Bjorn who provided the day's most heart-warming story.

He was last seen at this rugged old course on the east Kent coastal stretch eight years ago when he headed for home heartbroken after blowing a golden chance to win the most glittering prize in golf.

Leading by three with four holes to play, Bjorn took three to get out of a greenside bunker at the 16th and then bogeyed the next as unknown American Ben Curtis swooped in to steal the Auld Claret Jug from under the Dane's nose.

Just a week ago, it looked like he would not even be playing this time around as, struggling for form, he had failed to qualify and was just sixth reserve for the event.

But in an unusual turn of events, the door creaked open for him as first Tiger Woods and then Thomas Levet, Tim Clark, David Toms and finally on Monday Vijay Singh pulled out.

The former Ryder Cup player would still have been left on the sidelines but for the fact that first alternate, Brendan Jones, turned down the chance to play because his wife was expecting.

Bjorn's round was fired by four birdies in five holes from the 12th, including ironically one at the fateful 16th.

"I came down here on Sunday night (as first reserve) and Monday wasn't the greatest of days," he said of his brief preparations for the tournament. "You don't really know what you are doing.

"But when I got in (Singh withdrawal) Monday night it gave me a couple of days to prepare and I just kind of promised myself to try and enjoy it."

Bjorn later choked back tears when talking about his late father, who died in May. "He would have been very proud of what I did today," he said. "That's all I've really got to say."

Lewis qualified for Sandwich with rounds of 63 and 65 at nearby Rye and he has a liking for the course having won the British Boys Amateur Championship here in 2009.

After going out in 33, he dropped two shots at 11 and 13, but then slammed in four birdies in four holes from the 14th to leap into contention.

His 65, played in the company of 61-year-old legend Tom Watson after whom he acquired his first name, was the lowest round by an amateur in Open history and equalled the lowest round in Majors history.

"Obviously I play links courses all year, so I've had more advantage than anyone else in the field probably," he said.

"I've only played one this year that's not been on links. So obviously I knew that if I did play well, I could have shot a good score

"But I didn't really have a target in my head. I was just more nervous about making sure I hit the first tee shot and not messing up early."

The popular, cigar-chomping Jimenez, whose best Open was a tie for third at Royal Lytham 10 years ago, said after his 66 that age was no barrier to him.

"It doesn't matter what is your age to be a good sportsman," he said.

"And this links, like you can see all the years, any age can be around the leaderboard, you know, just experience, just timing, just patience is something that age gives to you, no?"

The 22-year-old Ulsterman McIlroy won the US Open by a stunning eight strokes last month to make the move from golfing prodigy to superstar status, and in the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, he is the biggest draw at the 140th Open.

But he looked distinctly rusty to start with as he bogeyed the first and second holes, both due to over-hitting his approaches.

Still, he pulled on the experience he gained when failing to cope with adversity at last year's Open and this year's Masters to birdie the ninth and then come home in 35 for his round of 71.

"On a day like this, I know better than most people, you can shoot a high number and put yourself out of the golf tournament," he said. "So it was nice to go out and shoot a decent score."

"I said yesterday, if the conditions stayed the same I'd take two 70s over the first two days, and if I shoot 69 tomorrow with similar conditions, I'll be really happy going into the weekend."

Topics : Golf Rory McIlroy Tom Lewis Thomas Bjorn Luke Donald
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