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Bjorn makes a triumphant return
All this talk of Rorymania sweeping golf, and at the top end of the Open Championship leaderboard sit a pack-a-day Marlboro-smoking fortysomething and a Spanish bon vivant who’s closing in on 50.
Thomas Bjorn, who choked away the Claret Jug here at Royal St. George’s eight years ago, returned to the scene of his greatest crime and shot 65 on Thursday while the hero of middle-aged men the world over, 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez, was just one shot back.
They were joined at the top late on the first day by 20-year-old English amateur prodigy Tom Lewis, who was named after Tom Watson and, playing alongside Watson, took advantage of the calm to also shoot 65.
Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, isn’t leading a major for the first time this year after a sluggish 1-over-par opening 71. The Northern Irishman, for whom the expectations have become absurdly stratospheric, bogeyed his opening hole, then fell to two over par through three before steadying his ship.
But while the future may belong to him, on this day, through the gloomy clouds, it was a couple of old guys who shined.
“It doesn’t matter what is your age,” said the always-entertaining Jimenez.
“These links … any age can be around the leaderboard, you know, just experience, just timing, just patience is something that age gives you, no?”
Well, si, Miguel.
Thursday served as a reminder that especially on the links, guile and experience and the softness of touch count for more than athleticism and brute power.
Bjorn’s 40 but his career has largely sputtered since he capitulated here in 2003.
Then, the Dane held a two-shot lead with three holes to play only to take three blows to extricate himself from a greenside bunker on the short par-3 16th.
Clearly rattled, he went on to bogey the next and effectively handed the Claret Jug to the then-anonymous Ben Curtis, playing in his first major and visiting a links course for the first time in his life.
In a moment of bitter irony, Bjorn birdied the 16th Thursday, one of the seven circles on his scorecard.
He even afforded himself a little smile afterward.
Not that he thought that hole owed him one.
“No,” he said, “that hole owes nobody anything, and no hole in golf does.”
Bjorn, who only got into the field on Monday night when Vijay Singh pulled out with an injury, wasn’t dwelling on the past.
“It was eight years ago,” he said of his meltdown. “It’s in the past.”
“People can do whatever they want, write you off, but … I look ahead. I’m 40 years old and there might just be a little bit more in me.”
That much is certainly true, but much will depend on how Bjorn deals with his demons.
He’s been lost on the golf course over the past few months, missing three cuts in his past five events and withdrawing from another of those tournaments.
“I’ve been very uncomfortable on the golf course for a long time,” he conceded.
“I’m not really knowing where the ball starts and I’m not really striking the ball the way I want to.”
Left unsaid was that Bjorn, whose 13-year marriage survived a scandal involving an Australian flight attendant late last year, has been grieving over the loss of his father, who died two months ago after a long illness.
Those who know him say it’s been devastating.
His father was certainly in his thoughts Thursday and maybe there was a part of Bjorn that wanted to do something special this week for his dad.
The Dane was overcome with emotion when he was asked about his father.
“He meant a lot to me,” Bjorn said, choking up.
“He would have been very proud of what I did today, that’s all I’ve really got to say.”
If a father’s death can have a positive influence on a son, it taught Bjorn, who tends to obsess about the minutiae of golf swing mechanics, to deepen his perspective.
“I certainly realized this year that there’s more important things to life than golf,” he said.
No one needs to tell Jimenez that; the Spaniard enjoys life to its fullest.
“I’m very hungry, you know?” he said when asked what he’d do after shooting 66.
After eating, he said he’d hit a few balls, roll a few putts, and smoke a cigar.
Not just any cigar, but “a big, fat cigar.”
“I don’t smoke during tournament rounds,” he said.
Practice is another story.
“Practicing, a big cloud, it’s in my mouth,” he joked.
After that he was heading off to the merchandise tent with his sons.
Robert Lusetich's coverage of the 2011 British Open is brought to you by British Airways.
“Like a human, no?” he said.
Well, si, Miguel.
He’d promised the boys he would buy them souvenirs. He wanted to buy himself a shirt, too, because he liked the Claret Jug logo on the Open merchandise.
Turns out he doesn’t get them for free.
“No, I have to buy shirts. My sponsor, they give me the thing (he was wearing), but I want to buy with the logo, the Open, no? And I have to pay for them.
“I’m a fan of the Open, too, you know?”
Who wouldn’t be after a day like this?