Bjorn graduates from rough school

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The Independent Online
Whereas the Solheim Cup finished early to accommodate a football match on the schedule of Sky TV, the Loch Lomond World Invitational was roaming in the gloamin' here last night because somebody at the BBC thought the Grand Prix in Portugal was finishing an hour earlier than it actually did. As a result, the Beeb, which is covering this epoch-making tournament, sent the leaders out at a time when most people were having an after-lunch snooze.

In all other respects Loch Lomond is wasting no time in trying to establish itself as a major venue. Notwithstanding the fact that the World Invitational was largely ignored by the leading players of the world, the event was promoted on television by Sean Connery, who is not in the habit of making advertisements. Apart from the fact that it has nature in its corner, Loch Lomond has some powerful supporters.

Connery is a friend of David Murray, who not only owns Glasgow Rangers FC but the company that is promoting the tournament here. Lyle Anderson, the American who owns Loch Lomond Golf Club, is already looking beyond the inaugural World Invitational. "We have had discussions with certain people with regard to the Ryder Cup," he said. "We're excited about the prospect." The earliest they could stage the biennial match between Europe and the United States is 2005 and don't bet against it. Anderson has also been having discussions with the hotel group De Vere who are developing a site near here and who are hosting the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 2001.

Thomas Bjorn could become the first Dane to play in the Ryder Cup following his victory in the World Invitational. Bjorn earned his place in the tournament by virtue of winning the Challenge Tour last year. That circuit is the minor league to the European Tour and they play everywhere from Warsaw to Wolverhampton for winner's cheques as small as pounds 5,000. Yesterday he won pounds 125,000 and that counts towards selection for the Ryder Cup match in Valderrama in 12 months' time.

One of the features of this tournament is that they decided not to pay appearance money which, in the case of Nick Faldo, is just as well. The world number four (Bjorn is not in the top 200) began the week by declaring in the most unequivocal fashion possible that Loch Lomond was the greatest course in Britain if not the face of the earth.

Faldo was on the leaderboard after a 68 in the first round but his game deteriorated day by day and in the fourth round he scored 77. Conditions were benign and Faldo's score was the second worst of the day. He was struggling in the third round when he scored 73 and yesterday he had five bogeys and a double bogey six at the 14th. "Played badly, very badly," Faldo said as he headed for a courtesy car and the prospect of a week's fishing holiday in Scotland. As a fly fisherman Faldo is about a four handicapper and that is currently the status of his golf game. Last week he was 25th in the Lancome Trophy and he is not exactly racking up the Ryder Cup points.

The 14th hole also did for Colin Montgomerie yesterday as he drove into a peat bog and took six. The double bogey was preceded by two birdies and followed by two birdies in a round of 70. He finished five shots adrift of Bjorn, who also scored 70. The Dane's aggregate of 277, seven under par, was one shot too good for the Frenchman Jean van de Velde.

It does not look like much of a margin but the 25-year-old Bjorn was always in control. He led the Scandinavian Masters for the first three rounds last month but blew it with a 75 in the final round. Bjorn, who became the 13th first-time winner on the European Tour this season, said he had learnt from his experience in Gothenburg. What was particularly impressive about his performance here is that while a lot of the players whinged about the pin positions in the second round he maintained that they were not unfair. "The course is designed so brilliantly that whereever you put the flags it's going to be tough," he said. "If you're not playing very well you're going to be in trouble. It's the best course I've ever played in Europe." On the Challenge Tour he was accustomed to taking the rough with the not so smooth and it has clearly been the making of him.

Robert Allenby, who finished third, was taken to hospital with a suspected broken ankle. Allenby, who was having the season of his life, tried to jump a fence after the tournament and failed badly. He was treated by paramedics before being whisked off to Glasgow Infirmary, where an X-ray examination revealed no fracture but torn ligaments

Results, Digest, page 19