2005: Masters - Bjorn’s struggles ‘put him back three steps’

Little wonder that Thomas Bjorn waved off inquiring reporters Sunday evening.

Even those who have undergone an attitude makeover, as has Bjorn, wouldn’t be eager to discuss a disastrous round like the closing 81 that dropped the Dane from third place when Round 4 of the Masters began into a tie for 25th.

“He had a bad day. So what?” said Bjorn’s caddie, Ken Comboy. “Everyone has bad days. But for three days he performed better than the rest of them.”

All but Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco, at least.

Bjorn was 7 under par after 54 holes. The highlight was a second-round 67 that included eagles at the 13th and 15th holes. Afterward, Bjorn said this was the first time in 30 major championships that he’d felt truly at ease.

“I always thought before it was such hard work, and now I enjoy myself,” he said. “I think that might be the key to actually playing well.”

Unfortunately, the fun didn’t carry over into Sunday. Hitting his tee shots left and his irons right, Bjorn made two double bogeys, five bogeys and no birdies.

“Thomas is a fantastic player,” said Trevor Immelman, who was paired with Bjorn in Round 4. “He didn’t have his best out there today, but he showed what he’s capable of the first three rounds.”

As painful as this free fall might have been, it wasn’t Bjorn’s most glaring failure at a major. Leading the 2003 British Open at Royal St. Georges, Bjorn famously took three shots to escape a bunker on the 70th hole, bogeyed the 71st and ended up losing by a shot to Ben Curtis.

The episode festered.

“He was low,” acknowledged Guy Kinnings, the IMG executive who manages Bjorn. “He’s always been very self-critical.”

It got to the point where, nearly a year after the British Open, Bjorn quit after six holes of the Smurfit European Open. He felt compelled to issue a statement that read: “I am out of sorts at the moment and feel uncomfortable on the golf course. I am going home to sort out my game.”

Soren Bjorn, who was at Augusta National last week watching his younger brother, said Thomas had “to deal with a few demons left over from the British Open.”

Bjorn had an epiphany of sorts after assisting Bernhard Langer as vice-captain of the European Ryder Cup team that thrashed the United States last September at Oakland Hills.

“I think it reminded him of where he wanted to be,” Kinnings said.

Within a couple of weeks Bjorn had rehired Comboy (who was with him for five years before going to work for Paul Casey, who “sacked” Comboy just before the Ryder Cup) and also returned to his old swing coach, Pete Cowen. Coming into the Masters, Bjorn had four top 5s in his past seven starts on the PGA European Tour.

“I think everyone at some point in their career takes stock and looks at what they maybe can improve on,” Comboy said. “And Thomas is doing that. He’s becoming much more consistent, but he’s just not getting over that final hurdle at the moment. It will come. He’s a great player, I don’t think anyone doubts that.

“But days like today don’t help. That will put him back three steps, and he’ll have to get back on the horse and go again.”

Comboy said no one should draw parallels to the ’03 British Open.

“This is easier to take because everyone knows anyone can shoot 80 around Augusta,” he said. “His game’s in good shape, that’s the thing. Last summer he was struggling with his game. Now he feels he’s going in the right direction again.”

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