Bjorn free to conquer 'demons' once again

The Dane was at it again yesterday, moving four shots clear in the European Open after a day's best of 69 here at the K Club in the high gusts that whipped in from the Irish Sea over the Dublin chimney-pots and blew his second Tour title in five events tantalisingly into focus. In doing so, Bjorn was concentration, self-assurance and coolness personified. Perhaps now everyone can stop banging on about the doubts that, temporarily, reduced this most upright of golfers into a quivering hunchback.

The sight of the 34-year-old adding today to the British Masters he won so tearfully at the Forest of Arden in May seemed inevitable as the nerveless joint-overnight leader's five-birdie card was blemished by a solitary bogey. Actually, we should have learnt not to talk about "inevitability" and "nerveless leaders" after the most nerveless of them all made such a hash of last month's US Open at Pinehurst.

As if keen to provide further evidence of how flimsy most golfing myths in fact are, Goosen proved his game was just as vulnerable when the conditions bear their teeth as everybody else's with a 77. The South African was in good company. Darren Clarke's 75 owed as much to a putter that carried on "burning the edges" as any understable reaction to his wife's battle with cancer back home in Surrey, while Jamie Donaldson's bad back creaked remorselessly as Bjorn's companion at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage hurtled southwards after a triple-bogey and five doubles.

The Welshman's horrific 82 was by no means the norm, although over-par figures most definitely were. As an indication of this, there were 23 players under par at the start of the day and 12 by the end of it. Only France's Raphael Jacquelin and Chesterfield's Jonathan Lomas were within four of the leader, highlighting Bjorn's magnificence on a day when everything came together until a scrappy finish saw him bogey the 17th and three-putt the 18th. Otherwise, birdies at the fourth, ninth, 13th and 16th were flanked by par after faultless par, and if he was really playing at just the "50 to 60 per cent" he had claimed on the first two days, then this must surely have been upped to the mid-90s.

It is form that says Bjorn's name appears certain to be back among the 12 Europeans that will line up here in 14 months' time to face America in the 36th Ryder Cup. Thankfully, the K Club officials have all-but decided to backtrack on their original plan to play next year's European Open on the Smurfit Course and not on this Palmer Course that will host the three-day spectacular from 22 September, after Padraig Harrington and the two captains were vehement in their opposition on Friday.

Yesterday a carefully-worded statement said that the powers-that-be were "undergoing a full and detailed evaluation on which course to use next year" - i.e. "don't worry, we WILL change our minds" - and Tom Lehman will be mightily relieved that he can now head home and persuade his team members that playing in this tournament next year will not be the enourmous waste of time it would have been otherwise.

Indeed, some first-hand knowledge may be useful as their captain might not be forthcoming with his own experiences after a 79 that had the most humiliating start imaginable. At least Tiger Woods and Co will be able to ask Lehman how long it takes to get from the practice putting green to the first tee: about 32 seconds full pelt, although he wished it had taken 10 seconds less. That was how late he was for his tee-off time yesterday, leading to a two-shot penalty.

To the layman on the street that may seem harsh, but to the Lehman on the fairway it was all his own fault. Well, and his caddy's, of course. Both had believed their starting time to be 10.27am and not 10.17am. "We were standing having a putt with bags of time," said Andy Martinez, "and then I heard somebody mention they were off at 10.26. I said 'What?' and we ran off towards Ivor Robson." But by the time they reached the famous old starter, he was already calling Lehman's name and even though the American had by now reached the edge of the tee he was not ready to play and the penalty was thus called. "It's embarrassing, no doubt about it," said Lehman. "No, I didn't set a very good example to my team."

Wrong time, right place. Just like Hal Sutton at Oakland Hills last year, in fact.

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