2006: Bjorn gets payback

Maynooth, Ireland

The last time Thomas Bjorn was playing in Ireland, he had a round to forget.

Bjorn led last year’s Smurfit European Open at the K Club by four shots with 18 holes left. He shot a closing 86 – including an 11 on the 17th hole.

On May 22, Bjorn’s final round was one to remember as he birdied the final two holes to finish at even-par 72 and edge Paul Casey in the rain-delayed Nissan Irish Open.

“You could say this country owes me one,” said Bjorn, who matched the highest start by a winner on the PGA European Tour, following American George Burns, who also opened with 78 before going on to win the Kerrygold International in 1975. “I lost a playoff in this event at Portmarnock three years ago, and I wanted to put what happened at The K Club behind me.

“I want to be part of something in this country in September and felt I needed to win early to give myself a chance.”

The latter was in reference to the Ryder Cup in September at the K Club. Bjorn is No. 10 in points and No. 12 in World Ranking standings.

Since last summer, the Dane has been taking a different approach to golf and life while working with two psychologists.

“One is for golf (Jos Vanstiphout) and one is for other things (Jamil Qureshi),” Bjorn said. “I’ve realized over the years that the way I am off the course is probably the way I should be more on the course. I’m much more relaxed off the course than I am on it. I’ve always stressed myself out over my golf.”

Bjorn’s middle rounds, 66-67, opened the way to his ninth European Tour victory.

“After the first round my game came good, and I have to thank Jos for talking me round at a time when I was looking at the flight schedules,” he said.

Costly advice: Kenneth Ferrie will think twice before asking a playing companion for a ruling again.

Strong winds Thursday caused Ferrie’s ball to move on the 14th green (his fifth hole of the day). The Englishman asked playing companions Paul McGinley and Ian Poulter for advice. Ferrie said McGinley told him he could replace his ball on the original spot.

That was incorrect, and Ferrie incurred a two-shot penalty. Ferrie took 8 on the hole and shot 80 in the first round. He missed the cut after a 74 in the second round.

The 27-year-old was angry with McGinley and sarcastically “thanked” him, suggesting that the Irishman deliberately had misled him.

McGinley later released a statement which read: “We (McGinley and Ian Poulter) gave our opinions in good faith, and I am not going to dignify any accusations of gamesmanship on my behalf as they are totally groundless.”

Ferrie later released his own statement, which read: “While Paul did, in fact, advise me that I could replace my ball on the 14th – which I later realized was inaccurate – at no time did I suggest that Paul had acted improperly as his integrity is beyond question.”

Knee KO’s McGinley: Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup hopes were thrown into jeopardy when he had to withdraw after 13 holes because of recurring knee problems. McGinley was 6 over when he withdrew. He headed right for the hospital and had surgery Thursday to remove a piece of bone from his left knee.

“I have been aware for a number of years that there was a piece of bone (the size and thickness of the tip of a finger) at the back of my left knee, but only recently has it floated to the front,” McGinley said. “Had it remained at the back of my knee, my recovery period would have been somewhere between six to 10 weeks,

but now I am hoping to be hitting balls in 10 days’ time.”

McGinley said he’s “50-50” for the Wales Open (June 1-4) but hopes to be back by the U.S. Open (June 15-18).

Short shots: No Irishman has won the national open since John O’Leary in 1982. . . . David Griffiths aced the 176-yard 17th hole with a 6-iron in the final round.

– Alistair Tait and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: Celtic Manor Wales Open, June 1-4, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, South Wales. Defending champion: Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The buzz: European Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam of Wales will keep a close eye on how players fare in his home open.

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