Bjorn takes lead role

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Thomas Bjorn fired a six-under-par 66 to capture a share of the third-round lead in the Tournament Players' Championship, otherwise known as the Deutsche Bank Open, at Gut Kaden yesterday. The 26-year-old Dane, who is widely expected to make his Ryder Cup debut for Europe at Valderrama in September, carded six birdies on his way to recording the joint best score of the day, and joined Yorkshireman Howard Clark and Anders Forsbrand of Sweden at the top of the leaderboard on 210, six under par.

Clark, a member of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team in America two years ago, had a 68 while Forsbrand returned a 69. The trio are one stroke clear of Scotland's Gordon Brand Jnr, the Englishman Ross McFarlane and Ireland's Paul McGinley, who had the day's other 66.

The overnight leader, Van Phillips, an Englishman who likes to wear a tie while playing, fell away with a 74 and lies three shots off the pace. But Spain's Miguel Angel Martin, like Bjorn a strong Ryder Cup candidate, finished six adrift despite birdieing the first two holes to go one clear of the field.

Despite his growing self- assurance, Bjorn is quick to play down a reference to him by Seve Ballesteros, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, as "my Tiger Woods". "I'm no Tiger Woods," Bjorn said, "but it's nice to know he thinks that highly of me. I've played with him this year and he's given me a lot of encouragement. It really sounds like he wants me in the team."

Three birdies in four holes before the turn fired Bjorn's charge yesterday. "I've been struggling recently but I've put in so much work I just knew something had to happen eventually. It could have been a lower score."

At present eighth in the European Cup rankings with 276,532 points, Bjorn thinks the pounds 83,000 on offer for second place today would be enough to seal his place. "I think I'm about 65,000 points away and if I can't make that by September I don't deserve to be in the team."

Forsbrand, who birdied two of the last three holes, said: "The last time I led going into the last round was the 1995 German Masters. I won then so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Meanwhile, yesterday's effort was Clark's first bogey-free round for "many moons".