By Andy Farrell, Special to PGA.com
SANDWICH, England -- Thomas Bjorn was not quite the last man into the 140th Open Championship. Ricky Barnes made it in on Thursday afternoon, while Bjorn had all of two days to prepare after finding out on Monday evening that Vijay Singh had been forced to withdraw.
Bjorn was the sixth alternate but it was only at the weekend when it became a possibility that he might tee up at this week at Royal St. George's. It was here on the Kent coast that the Dane came ever so close to winning the Open eight years ago. It was his late collapse that meant Ben Curtis claimed the Claret Jug. Why would Bjorn want to come back?
"A couple of people have asked me that question, would you not just want to go home?" Bjorn said. "This is the Open Championship, where else would you want to be?"
Not only was Bjorn playing in the Open, he was leading it after a morning 5-under 65. There were seven birdies and one of them was surely more special than the rest. It came at the 16th hole, the place where his hopes buried in the sand in 2003.
Bjorn had led by three on the 15th tee. He bogeyed there and then hit into a bunker on the par-3 16th. It is not usually good when features on a course get named after you. The bunker on the right of the green is now associated with the Dane after he took three swipes to get on to the green. Or rather, get on the green and stay on it. His first two attempts almost crested the brow of the slope only to roll back into the trap.
He took a double-bogey five, dropped another shot at the next and lost by one.
In the first round of the 2011 Open, Bjorn hit a 9-iron to eight feet and holed the putt for a birdie-2. What would he have given for a birdie eight years ago?
"That hole owes nobody anything, and no hole in golf does, and no golf course does," Bjorn said.
Bjorn was between clubs as the wind gusted and he chose to hit a hard 9-iron rather than an 8. One bunker was removed from around the 16th green, the one back right - not Bjorn's bunker, but seven still remain, including four to be carried to reach the green.
"It started to climb a little bit on the wind and I thought I was in trouble. It was going to struggle to carry the bunkers but it just did and rolled down nicely," he said.
Bjorn smiled when he saw that. "We all know with links golf a bounce here or there and then it goes either wrong or right. Today it went my way."
It was his third birdie in a row, and his fourth in five holes. He dropped a shot at the last after finding Duncan's Hollow on the last, the dip to the left of the green from which George Duncan took a bogey in 1922 to lose by one to Walter Hagen. It happens to the best, though Duncan had the consolation of already being an Open champion from 1920 at neighboring Deal.
"I've worked very hard in my career to get myself in with a chance of winning a major and that was my biggest chance," Bjorn said. "I got close in the U.S. PGA in 2005 at Baltusrol but I always promised myself to keep going and keep going. I played my best golf today but most of the time I don't and there are always issues over a golf career. But I always look ahead. I'm 40 years old and there might be a little bit more in me."
Bjorn won in Qatar at the start of the year but missed two months of the season during which time his father Ole passed away. Asked about his dad after the round, Bjorn's eyes clouded with tears.
"He would have been very proud of what I did today," he said, struggling with his emotions. "That's all I can really say."
Later he added: "I played pretty well after the win but obviously all the things with my dad, eight weeks totally away from golf, kind of halted everything. It's been a start-all-over again process. It's taken longer than I wanted it to but that's part of it.
"I certainly realized this year there's more important things to life than golf."