Great Danes make most of new beginning on Kent coast

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Since his opening 65 on Thursday morning, Thomas Bjorn has been going quietly about his business in the 140th Open Championship. The romantic notion of Bjorn's redemption on the Kent links where he could, indeed should, have won the Open eight years ago was soon overtaken by the story of boy wonder Tom Lewis.

Then Bjorn made three bogeys in a row early in his second round and seemed to be fading while Darren Clarke was rising to the top of the leaderboard. Without much recent form behind him in what has been a turbulent year, the suspicion was that a fade might become an outright eclipse.

Yet Bjorn is very much still in contention. He might not be leading going into the final round as he was in 2003 but Bjorn has got himself into position to strike today.

Bjorn has steadfastly refused to talk about the events of the fateful afternoon when he led by three strokes with four holes to play. He dropped a shot at the 15th and then hit his tee shot into the bunker to the right of the green at the short 16th.

It is rarely good when a feature on a golf course is named after a player. Duncan's Hollow, the dip to the left of the 18th green, commemorates the Scot's failure to get down in two shots and so lose the 1922 Open to America's Walter Hagen. Sandy Lyle also got a bogey from the same spot in 1985 but it turned out all right when nobody beat his score.

Duncan had already won an Open at Royal Cinque Ports, the course to the south at Deal, two years earlier. Bjorn had not and that was his best chance to win a major, although two years later he got close at the USPGA Championship, won by Phil Mickelson. Twice Bjorn played out of the sand and twice the ball rolled back down the bank into the trap. He took a double bogey, then bogeyed the 17th and lost by one to the unheralded Ben Curtis.

His caddie was Billy Foster and a few weeks later when Bjorn asked the Yorkshireman his tee-time for the next tournament, Foster could not resist adding that he had been drawn with Doug Sanders and Jean van de Velde. Harsh, but Bjorn took it in the bitterly humorous manner intended. Bjorn was forced to take two months off this year during which time his father died.

But he was determined to enjoy this week after getting in as the sixth alternate on Monday evening. Tucked behind the leaders yesterday, he had a couple of birdies and a couple of bogeys early on while the wind was still up. But then he got into par mode and reeled off nine in succession, chipping beautifully at the 15th and the 16th. That run ended with a three-putt at the 17th but he almost recovered that dropped shot by holing from long range at the last. It was a par for a 71 to leave him third on two under.

Bjorn is not the only Dane in contention with Anders Hansen playing his way into the frame with a remarkable shot at the ninth. Perhaps they feel at home on a blustery spur of land on the North Sea. Hansen is a terrific ball-striker who has won not one but two PGA Championships at Wentworth.

His record at The Open is nothing to write home about, however. Before this week he had managed only two rounds in the 60s, a figure he doubled with two opening 69s here. At the ninth hole, his sand-wedge second shot spun sideways into the hole for an eagle two. "I could not see it go in but the roar of the crowd told me what had happened," he said.

This Dane also went on a run of pars, which unfortunately came to an end when he made a hash of the 18th. A double bogey meant a 72 but he is in the group at level par so ideally placed to take advantage of any slips by those in front.

With Clarke leading the way, this looks like being a good Open for the 40-year-olds. Both Bjorn and Hansen are 40 and although Hansen is notparticularly worried about his record in the Open, he knows exactly what it means to Bjorn. "I have to treat this as just another tournament that I am trying to win," he said. "Whether it is The Open or not, I'm just hoping to get a win.

"But I'm happy to see Thomas in contention. I wish him well tomorrow." Anyone who remembers Bjorn's agony in that bunker eight years ago can only agree with the sentiment.