ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Ryder Cup vice-captain Thomas Bjorn shot a 6-under 66 at St. Andrews on Thursday to take a share of the first-round lead at the Alfred Dunhill Links.
Bjorn, one of captain Colin Montgomerie’s five backups in the victory over America at Celtic Manor, led eight other members of the European Ryder Cup team in their return to stroke play.
The Alfred Dunhill Links was played over three courses, and Bjorn was tied at the top of the leaderboard with Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina, who also played at St. Andrews, Maarten Lafeber of the Netherlands, who shot 66 at Carnoustie, and Martin Laird of Scotland, who produced the same score at Kingsbarns.
Six players shot 67 and 14 more shot 68, including PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer.
Bjorn was not surprised to perform better than the rest of the Ryder Cup players just four days after their victory celebrations.
“I have done it before. I was vice-captain to Bernhard Langer (in 2004), so I knew how much the Ryder cup would take out of me,” Bjorn said. “So on Monday night after the victory I knew that I needed to get myself to bed and not stay up until 4 a.m. But for the players, you have to remember that the Ryder Cup is such a big event, especially as it went into a Monday.
“They have never really had a chance to come back down to earth before they have had to start playing again, so the first round back was going to be tough for them.”
Germany’s Kaymer was closest to Bjorn at 4 under at Kingsbarns. He said he felt duty bound to recover quickly from the celebrations.
“I was still very tired,” he said. “But now after the Ryder Cup, it’s important for me to win this year’s Race to Dubai. That is my priority since I have obviously a very good chance of winning it.”
England’s Ross Fisher shot a 69 to get to within three shots of the leaders.
However, Montgomerie could shoot only 72 as he attempts to restart his playing career after two years concentrating on the match against the Americans.
Playing alongside Kaymer, Montgomerie knows he has work to do if he wants to win in Europe for the first time since 2007 and achieve his new ambition of playing in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, in suburban Chicago.
“The standard of golf now is very, very good,” said Montgomerie, who has slipped to 425th in the world. “And if I am going to compete again I have got to find another 20 yards, 30 yards.
“How can I do it? Get to the gym and lift those weights that I have never lifted before.”
All of the Ryder Cup members were still in contention after the first day. Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood opened with 70s, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy each shot 71, Francesco Molinari shot 72, his brother Edoardo Molinari 73 and Peter Hanson 74.
Westwood slipped on a slope by the No. 7 tee at Kingsbarns and hurt his right ankle again, but decided after his round to keep playing. His bid to replace Tiger Woods as the world’s top-ranked golfer will be helped by a top-20 finish. He’s tied for 47th.