Eight the unlucky number again as Lonard apes Bjorn

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The Independent Online

The paths of Thomas Bjorn and Peter Lonard crossed yesterday when they found themselves sharing the lead during the third round of the Nissan Irish Open at Portmarnock. One of the things they have in common is the figure eight.

The Dane's came at the 17th hole in the first round of the Open Championship at Royal St George's where he failed to come out of a bunker (not the notorious 16th in the final round when the claret jug slipped from his hands) and thumped his club into the sand, thus incurring a two stroke penalty. Incidentally, in the debate about the quaint rules of golf, nobody has questioned the severity of the penalty for a frustrated golfer who commits a crime of passion against a grain of sand with his club. It could be argued that but for that act Bjorn, who finished one stroke behind Ben Curtis, would have won the Open. Let's not go down that road; change a pebble on the beach and you change the state of the universe, etc.

The result of Bjorn's mishap in Kent is that he walked from the hole with an eight. Yesterday, in the third round of the Irish Open, he was playing almost as impressively as he was in the first round here (when he established a course record of 64), making five birdies on the front nine - he went to the turn in 32, a score matched by Lonard.

As Bjorn's destiny might have been altered by his eight in Sandwich on the first day, perhaps a similar, weaker argument, could be raised for Lonard's eight in the first round here at the eighth, a par-four of 427 yards. From the tee the player cannot see the fairway. Lonard thought his drive might have drifted into the rough so he chose to hit a provisional. His second drive landed in the rough and he found that ball whilst searching for his original. He spent the maximum five minutes scouring the undergrowth, could not find the first ball and was then told by observers that there was a small white object lying in the middle of the fairway.

It was, of course, Lonard's first ball. Forced to play his provisional, he hacked out to the edge of the fairway, missed the green with his fifth shot, chipped on and two-putted for a quadruple-bogey eight.

"It's the strangest thing that's ever happened to me in golf. I don't blame anybody but myself. It's my responsibility to look after my own ball." It was possibly the most damaging thing to happen to him since he contracted Ross River Fever, a mosquito-carried virus.

Yesterday Bjorn and Lonard got to 10 under for the championship but the former had bogeys at the 14th and 15th and the latter, playing immediately in front of him, took a six at the 16th. While the Dane rallied to come in with a 68, Lonard dropped another shot at the 17th to finish with a 69. Bjorn, on ten under par, shared the lead with the Englishman David Lynn and New Zealand's Michael Campbell with Lonard two shots adrift.

Meanwhile there was another cheque for Andy Sutton, albeit less than the £70,000 he received for caddying for the Open Champion Ben Curtis when his regular employer John Bickerton made the cut and yesterday finished at one under par for the Championship. Sutton, from Maidstone in Kent, has been invited to Curtis's wedding in Kent, Ohio next month and the caddy hopes to be reunited with the ex-rookie in the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in October where the winner from the select field will win £1million, £300,000 more than Curtis received for winning the Open.

The appointment of Bernhard Langer as captain of Europe's Ryder Cup Team for the match against the United States at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan next year, was received with more grace here by one of his rivals for the job, Sandy Lyle, than another, Ian Woosnam. Lyle said: "I'm disappointed but at least I won't have to make any speeches."

Langer said: "Putting myself forward as captain was not an easy decision because deep down I thought I had the chance to make the team. We need the best 12 players and I feel I am still capable of being one of those. On the other hand I felt I only had two chances to be captain - next year and then in Ireland in 2006. I don't know who will be vice-captain or if there will be more than one.''

Langer, a multi-millionaire who has homes in Germany and America and has become an American citizen, added: "I no longer believe that payment to the players is an issue. It was the way the profits were dispersed that I had a problem with. Too much seemed to be going to the British PGA, an organisation that does not mean too much to us continentals. But now that has changed."

It should be pointed out that the Ryder Cup captain is on to a nice little earner when everything is taken into account.

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