Dane sees off ghosts of failure with successful return to notorious 16th

Irony is not lost on Thomas Bjorn as he sinks a birdie at the scene of the 2003 meltdown that wrenched the Claret Jug from his grasp
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The ghosts of 2003 came back to haunt Thomas Bjorn here yesterday. Worse than that, they mocked him. He stood on the 16th tee and fizzed a nine-iron to eight feet and dabbed home the birdie putt. His head must have been spinning with thoughts of ifs and buts, and what most certainly would have happened had he done that in the final round eight years ago.

Back then, Bjorn plonked a six-iron into a greenside bunker on Sunday afternoon and took three frustrating swipes to extract his ball out of the sand: double bogey. His two-shot lead was gone. Bob Dylan wrote a song about it (probably): "It was then he felt alone and wished he'd gone straight. And watched out for a simple twist of fate."

Bjorn dropped his fourth shot in three holes at the 17th and barely remembers walking down the final hole. "The 18th was a blur," he said. "I knew I had to make three to get into a play-off but just had this feeling that my chance had gone. I didn't feel embarrassed by what happened but I did feel like I had just gone from an extreme high to an extreme low. It was difficult to deal with. I was drained. I think it took me a whole year to get over it."

Meanwhile, the Claret Jug went home to Kent (that's Kent, Ohio) with Ben Curtis who was world No 396. Bjorn could not help but grin at the irony of his birdie at the 16th this time around. But as revenges go, it felt more like a consolation goal at the end of a ruddy good thrashing. "It was eight years ago. It's in the past," Bjorn said. "That hole owes nobody anything. No hole does, and no golf course does."

Bjorn has spent all week avoiding talking about 2003 but he knew he would have to face his demons again sometime. How ironic it was again, then, that on a day when he should have been celebrating his finest round at the Open, he was obliged to re-live his most gut-wrenching failure.

"I'm always honest with you guys," he said. "A couple of people asked me if I would rather go home. This is the Open Championship. Where else do you want to be? People want to talk about that Open because we're back at Royal St George's. That's only natural. I have always been fine with everything I did that week. I played the best golf of my life. And I made a mistake. Things just didn't go my way."

Credit then to Bjorn for offering a blow-by-blow account of his implosion. It must still drive him crackers. He does not even have any hair left to tear out. "It was almost a perfect six-iron," he added. "But I pushed it a little and it trickled down the slope of the green, into the bunker." When he found his ball, mental alarm bells began ringing in his ears. "It's hard to imagine ever having to play a tougher shot. There was loads of sand under the ball and I had an uphill lie to the flag, which was on top of that slope."

A hyperactive kid with a spade could not have made a bigger mess in the bunker. "What cost me the Open was I got a little too cute with that first bunker shot and it rolled back into my footprint," he recalled. "I knew then that I was in trouble. It was a miracle that I made five and not more. It could have been so much more. I tried to win the Open on the 70th hole instead of the 72nd hole. That was my mistake."

Bjorn has come close to winning majors before. He was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 2000 Open and to Phil Mickelson at the 2005 US PGA Championship and that has always given him the belief that he has the game to win one.

"Sometimes you win; sometimes you just can't get over the finishing line," Bjorn said. "I just haven't been good enough to win one yet. I feel to this day that St George's was my biggest chance."