Psychology puts frustrated Bjorn back on track

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A three-man cabinet of war sat down together for lunch yesterday and all came to the same conclusion. The magic formula allowed Thomas Bjorn to recover from three-down after 18 holes to win 4 and 3 over the American Len Mattiace in the opening round of the World Match Play.

Annoyed at losing the 17th and 18th holes in the morning, having got back to one-down after losing the seventh, eighth and ninth earlier on, Bjorn called a conference with his caddie, Billy Foster, and his sports psychologist, the ubiquitous Jos Vantisphout.

"We were all thinking similar things but Billy and I said our thoughts and then we left it to the wise man to decide what to do," Bjorn said. "I was worrying about the match, and what Len was doing, instead of focusing on getting the ball in the hole."

As a statement of intent, Bjorn's drive at the first in the afternoon, measured officially at 385 yards, was emphatic. It was downwind and the ball scampered down the valley and up the other side, leaving him only a wedge to the green.

A par was good enough to win the hole, as it was at four of the first six holes. The strong wind, on a day blessed with autumnal sunshine that suggested some of the traditions of the tournament remained, made conditions tricky with the course, often soggy at this time of year, still running hard and fast due to the lack of rain.

Experience of the course was important, and Bjorn and Vijay Singh were the only two players in action who had played in the event before. Mattiace, the runner-up at the Masters who was 36 on Wednesday, struggled as the Dane won six holes on the front nine and the momentum of the match had swing irrevocably.

Bjorn is the only Ryder Cup player in the field and enjoyed the support of the gallery. One of his many homes, which include a winter base in Dubai, is on the Wentworth estate. "There is no experience like the Ryder Cup and the more matchplay you've played the easier it is when you are in these situations," he said.

"I felt like I live here," Bjorn added of the crowd's encouragement. "I've played Lee Westwood and Monty here before and I know how difficult it is to play against [the crowd]."

Singh, chipping in at the first and holing from 40 feet at the second, never let up against Germany's Alex Cejka. He might have tied the record winning margin in the event, an 11 and 10 drubbing of which he was on the wrong end against Mark O'Meara, but eventually had to settle for an 8 and 7 win.

The Fijian, who still hopes to pip Tiger Woods for the US money list, was slightly miffed not to have been given a bye into today's quarter-finals. As the world No 3, one place behind Ernie Els, and one of only three members of the world's top 20 who are present, Singh thought the seedings should have been based on the world rankings.

Instead, Els, as defending champion, and the top three from the tournament's major championship qualifying list were seeded. Singh and Els could meet in the semi-finals but first Singh plays Shaun Micheel, a former USPGA champion.

Another interesting match will be Bjorn, the Open runner-up, against Mike Weir, the Masters champion. Ben Curtis, the unlikely Open winner, plays his fellow American Chad Campbell, who beat Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson 6 and 5.

Campbell, the USPGA runner-up, is rated highly in the US Tour but a duel between potential future Ryder Cup opponents never lived up to the billing. Els plays his fellow South African Tim Clark, who defeated Australia's Stephen Leaney 3 and 2.

WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth) First round: V Singh (Fiji) bt A Cejka (Ger) 8 & 7; C Campbell (US) bt F Jacobson (Swe) 6 & 5; T Clark (SA) beat S Leaney (Aus) 3 & 2; T Bjorn (Den) bt L Mattiace (US) 4 & 3.

TODAY'S DRAW: 08.45 and 13.10 E Els (SA) v Clark; 0900-1325 S Micheel (US) v Singh; 0915-1340 B Curtis (US) v Campbell; 0930-1355 M Weir (Can) v Bjorn.

* Lee Westwood failed to live up to his billing as the tournament favourite with a first-round 72 in the Majorca Classic. After a 30-minute delay following torrential rain overnight, Westwood never recovered from a double-bogey seven on the 10th, his opening hole. He finished with a two-over-par 72, eight shots behind the surprise leader, Damien McGrane, of Ireland, and six adrift of his playing partner, Jose Maria Olazabal.