Bjorn holds his nerve to secure title at the last

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The Independent Online

OK, his head did not quite spin around 360 degrees, and there was no discernible green bile spewing forth from his foaming mouth, but Thomas Bjorn's victory here yesterday did allow the Dunlop Masters to witness something of a golfing exorcism.

OK, his head did not quite spin around 360 degrees, and there was no discernible green bile spewing forth from his foaming mouth, but Thomas Bjorn's victory here yesterday did allow the Dunlop Masters to witness something of a golfing exorcism.

And the demons that have plagued this affable Dane ever since he blew the 2003 Open in XXX-rated circumstances, made him call on every blessed virtue of his God-given talent as he was forced to go to the second extra hole before seeing off two Englishmen, David Howell and Brian Davis, in a play-off that capped a thrilling finale to the first British tournament of the season.

"It's been a long time coming," said the 34-year-old after his final round 68 for a six-under total ended the winless sequence that stretched - bafflingly for a player of his undoubted class - all the way back to the 2002 BMW International Open. "It's been hard work and there have been some tough times. I've learnt a lot about myself on this long road. Winning in Britain was really important, as I've had some of my biggest let-downs here. I thought I had lost that winning feeling. Thank God I haven't."

As ever, however, the golfing demons soon found another home to cast their doubts. It was yet another second place for Howell, who has appeared so many times in that role that there are a few perennial bridesmaids out there who would feel enough sympathy to offer him a free passage to the bouquet. He would as likely still drop it, though.

After a run from the 15th to the 17th that read birdie, birdie, eagle, the 29-year-old from Swindon - who chipped in from the rough on the left side of the penultimate hole to take the overall lead - simply needed to hit the green at the par-three last to halt a run that traces back more than 160 events to Dubai at the end of the last century. Howell hit the bunker. Then fluffed his splash out. Then left the putt short. Even the gutsy seven-footer that forced Bjorn to go back to the 18th tee after Brian Davis had ducked out of the play-off at the first extra hole will not be consolation enough. Especially when Howell considers that he missed that 18th green three times in under an hour and allowed Bjorn to triumph with nothing more glorious than a par.

Michael Campbell was feeling just as sick after his 73 - in sunny conditions that were just perfect for low scoring - saw him throw away an overnight three-shot lead to consign him to fourth. One further back came a group including the local lad Steve Webster who ran out of steam, if not raucous cheers, after his maiden Tour victory last week.

Darren Clarke would have sympathised with that fuel burn-out after a charge from the Ulsterman - triggered by an albatross two at the par-five second when holing a 215-yard five-iron - came to a shuddering stop in the hard shoulder with two bogeys in his final three holes. In truth, however, the damage was done in the first three rounds when the high winds did their worst to reduce the majority of this field to aimless ragdolls.

An indication of how severe they had been before Mother Nature put on her Sunday best, was that it took until the 410th round of the week for a player to tiptoe around this monster without recording bogey or worse. Step forward Ian Poulter, with an eight-birdie, blemish-free bonanza that was within one of his own course-record 63. And while it is churlish to suggest that a 64 could ever be too little, it could still be described as not enough, too late for he of the silly slacks.

¿ Annika Sorenstam all but wrapped up victory in the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship when she stretched her lead to 10 shots after a third-round 67 at Stockbridge on the outskirts of Atlanta.

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