Five days after coming agonisingly close to winning the Open Golf Championship, Thomas Björn displayed tremendous mental fortitude as he bounced straight back with a stunning course record 64, eight under par, at Portmarnock Golf Club to open up a two stroke lead in the Nissan Irish Open.
Ironically, after taking three strokes to extricate himself from the bunker on the 16th at Royal St George’s on the final day, his round today included a holed bunker shot on the second, his 11th, from 30 yards.
“If ever there was a shot five days too late, that was it,” he said to his playing partners Michael Campbell and Padraig Harrington with a wry smile.
That shot contributed to one of nine birdies during his round, his only bogey coming at the eighth hole, his 17th, where he missed the green on the right. He leads Campbell by two with Paul Broadhurst a further shot back on five under par 67.
“I probably haven’t walked off a golf course ever in my life feeling as happy as I did today,” he said. “I am proud of what I did out there. It is not the easiest golf course in the world. I felt comfortable on the golf course. I holed a putt on the first hole and I was back in the swing of things. I have had a lot of support from Billy Foster, my caddie, Jos (Vanstiphout) and Bob Torrance the past three or four days which has meant a lot and helped me produce the number I did today. You’ve sometimes got to face reality and say ‘yes, I made a mistake last week’, but my golf is certainly good enough and that’s what I believe. Today certainly shows that my best golf is good enough to play with the best.”
Björn might have been playing the famous Portmarnock links for the first time but played it with consummate skill, the quality of his golf and ball striking still of the same high standard he displayed at Sandwich.
“We are conscious that we play Open Championship courses that are the finest links in the world. This is right up there with the finest, finest links courses in the world. This is the most fair links course I have ever played. It has all the qualities you are looking for.”
For Campbell it was also a chance to start afresh, his 66 being his best start of the year after a difficult few months where he has struggled to find his form. Like his playing partner Björn he dropped a shot on the eighth hole but more than made up for that with five birdies and an eagle three on the fifth.
“It’s nice to get off to a good start for a change,” said the New Zealander. “I am gradually getting better and better every week. Today was a prime example that my game was getting back.”
Since finishing third in the Diageo Championship at Gleneagles, Broadhurst has missed the last three cuts but bounced back today.
“I had three bad week but that was better today,” he said. “That is what you need, get off to a good start and put yourself in position.”
Six players share fourth place on four under par, including the in-form Philip Price, who followed his victory in the Smurfit European Open with a joint second place finish at Loch Lomond and joint tenth finish at Royal St George’s.