SANDWICH, England – It didn’t take long for Thomas Bjorn to perk up.
A 5-under 65 around Royal St. George’s can do that to you. It can also have fairy-tale writers reaching for their pens.
A Bjorn victory this week would be like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen story.
Eight years after experiencing his biggest heartache in golf, Bjorn is now three rounds away from Open Championship glory. The Dane grabbed the early lead after fashioning seven birdies and two bogeys in the tough conditions that plagued the most quintessential of Open Championship courses.
The highlight of his round came at the par-3 16th, where he holed a 10-foot birdie putt to move to 6 under. That settled an eight-year old score. Bjorn would have won the 2003 Open Championship had he not taken a double bogey on that hole in the final round. Three shots to escape a greenside bunker doomed his chances of becoming the first Scandinavian male golfer to join the major club.
Now, he has a chance to right that wrong.
“It was quite nice to see my name on the leaderboard all day,” he said.
Three days ago, Bjorn was despondent. He turned up at the 140th Open as first reserve, convinced he was set to wait in vain for his chance to play the Open on the course where he should have won eight years ago. Now, he’s thinking maybe you really do get a second chance in life. No wonder he put in a lot of hard work with coach Pete Cowen to get his game together.
“I did a lot of work with Pete yesterday and started to feel comfortable, and I felt comfortable on the course today,” Bjorn said. “Mentally I was very strong. I’m proud of how I carried it all the way to the end. I never let my mind wander.”
The 40-year-old started last week as fifth reserve, but moved to first on the subs bench after Tiger Woods, Tim Clark, Thomas Levet and David Toms withdrew. Then Vijay Singh pulled out with a bad back, and Bjorn suddenly had his chance.
Even so, the Dane started the day as a 250-1 long shot with one British bookmaker to win. Now he’s odds-on to win.
Bjorn’s career is on the resurgence. The Dane won the Qatar Masters earlier this year, his 11th European Tour win and second in the space of nine months after four winless years.
“I lost my appetite for the game, totally,” he said. “I’d get in the car going to the airport and I wouldn’t want to go. I always felt like I had to go more than I wanted to go.
“I was also terrible swing-wise for a few years. I never felt any control over my game and I really lost my love for the game.”
Bjorn did some soul searching and rediscovered his mojo. “I went away from myself for a few days at the end of 2009. I just started fooling around on the range and started getting a bit of control back.
“So I quickly found my desire to play. I wanted to get out there and test it. At the beginning of last year I started looking forward to going to golf tournaments and playing again, and trying to win again.”
Tragedy struck in May, however, when his father, Ole, died of cancer. Bjorn was away from the game for nearly eight weeks to be with his dad. Needless to say, the Dane is still in mourning. That much was obvious from his slight breakdown during his press conference.
“He meant a lot to me,” Bjorn said after needing a few moments to compose himself to the question about his father’s death. “He would have been proud of what I did today.”
Bjorn’s resurgence can also be put down to acting as vice captain to Colin Montgomerie during last year’s Ryder Cup.
“When I walked around the Ryder Cup,” he said, “I knew that at my best I’m easily competitive with these guys.
“I want to win more golf tournaments. I want to get back to the top 50 in the world. I want to give it another go and give myself a realistic chance of winning a major championship.”
He’s made a great start to realizing that dream. Some would say it’s something of a fairy-tale start.