Bjorn, Lewis share Open lead
Sandwich - A tearful Thomas Bjorn returned to the scene of his former heartbreak here on Thursday to grab the lead at the British Open which he shares with 20-year-old English amateur Tom Lewis.
Full scorecard at the British Open
On a day when patchy rain and stiff sea breezes allowed Royal St George's to bear its teeth at the 156-strong field, the 41-year-old Dane seized the lead early on with a five-under 65 that included seven birdies and that stood for most of a marathon day before Lewis made his move in the early evening.
One stroke back from that pair was 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, and 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover as the top American.
Still out on the course Ryan Palmer of the United States was threatening at three under through 14 holes as the final groupings came in.
Tournament favourite Rory McIlroy, the newly-crowned US Open champion, ended a three-week break by bogeying two of his first three holes, only to steady the ship and fire a one-over 71.
That was also where the top two ranked players in the world, English pair Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, ended the day, while top American hope Phil Mickelson, at 41, was just ahead of them at level par.
But it was Bjorn who provided the day's most heart-warming story.
He was last seen at this rugged old course on the east Kent coastal stretch eight years ago when he headed for home heartbroken after blowing a golden chance to win the most glittering prize in golf.
Leading by three with four holes to play, Bjorn took three to get out of a greenside bunker at the 16th and then bogeyed the next as unknown American Ben Curtis swooped in to steal the Auld Claret Jug from under the Dane's nose.
Just a week ago, it looked like he would not even be playing this time around as, struggling for form, he had failed to qualify and was just sixth reserve for the event.
But in an unusual turn of events, the door creaked open for him as first Tiger Woods and then Thomas Levet, Tim Clark, David Toms and finally on Monday Vijay Singh pulled out.
The former Ryder Cup player would still have been left on the sidelines but for the fact that first alternate Brendan Jones turned down the chance to play because his wife was expecting.
Bjorn's round was fired by four birdies in five holes from the 12th, including ironically one at the fateful 16th.
"I came down here on Sunday night (as first reserve) and Monday wasn't the greatest of days," he said of his brief preparations for the tournament. "You don't really know what you are doing.
"But when I got in (Singh withdrawal) Monday night it gave me a couple of days to prepare and I just kind of promised myself to try and enjoy it."
Bjorn later choked back tears when talking about his late father, who died in May. "He would have been very proud of what I did today," he said. "That's all I've really got to say."
Lewis qualified for Sandwich with rounds of 63 and 65 at nearby Rye and he has a liking for the course having won the British Boys Amateur Championship here in 2009.
After going out in 33, he dropped two shots at 11 and 13, but then slammed in four birdies in four holes from the 14th to leap into contention.
His 65 was the lowest round by an amateur in Open history.
The popular, cigar-chomping Jimenez, whose best Open was a tie for third at Royal Lytham 10 years ago, said after his 66 that age was no barrier to him.
"It doesn't matter what is your age to be a good sportsman," he said.
"And this links, like you can see all the years, any age can be around the leaderboard, you know, just experience, just timing, just patience is something that age gives to you, no?"
The 22-year-old Ulsterman, McIlroy, won the US Open by a stunning eight strokes last month to make the move from golfing prodigy to superstar status, and in the absence of the injured Tiger Woods, he is the biggest draw at the 140th Open.
But he looked distinctly rusty to start with as he bogeyed the first and second holes, both due to over-hitting his approaches.
Still, he pulled on the experience he gained when failing to cope with adversity at last year's Open and this year's Masters to birdie the ninth and then come home in 35 for his round of 71.
"On a day like this, I know better than most people, you can shoot a high number and put yourself out of the golf tournament," he said. "So it was nice to go out and shoot a decent score."
"I said yesterday, if the conditions stayed the same I'd take two 70s over the first two days, and if I shoot 69 tomorrow with similar conditions, I'll be really happy going into the weekend."
Scores from first round of the 140th British Open at the par-70 Royal St George's on Thursday:
65 - Thomas Bjorn (DEN), Tom Lewis (ENG)
66 - Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Lucas Glover (USA), Webb Simpson (USA)
68 - Simon Dyson (ENG), Kyle Stanley (USA), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Darren Clarke (NIR), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Martin Kaymer (GER), Fredrik Hed Andersson (SWE), Ricky Barnes (USA), Kurt Barnes (AUS), Jeff Overton (USA)
69 - Danny Willett (ENG), Mark Calcavecchia (USA), Ryan Moore (USA), Yota Ikeda (JPN), Ian Poulter (ENG), Anders Hansen (DEN), Alexander Noren (SWE), Noh Seung-Yul (KOR), Richard McEvoy (ENG), Chad Campbell (USA), Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Adam Scott (AUS), Bubba Watson (USA), Steve Stricker (USA), Robert Allemby (AUS), JB Holmes (USA), Robert Rock (ENG)
70 - Graeme Storm (ENG), Fredrik Jacobsen (SWE), Stephen Gallacher (SCO), Stewart Cink (USA), Dustin Johnson (USA), Rickie Fowler (USA), Sergio Garcia (ESP), Peter Whiteford (SCO), Richard Green (AUS), Trevor Immelman (RSA), Tadahiro Takayama (JPN), Phil Mickelson (USA), Davis Love (USA), Justin Leonard (USA), Floris de Vries (NED)
71 - Simon Khan (ENG), KJ Choi (KOR), Peter Uihlein (USA), Rory McIlroy (NIR), Luke Donald (ENG), Camilo Villegas (COL), Ross Fisher (ENG), Matthew Millar (AUS), Kenneth Ferrie (ENG), Rory Sabbatini (RSA), Charles Howell III (USA), Yang Yong-Eun (KOR), Bryden MacPherson (AUS), Jason Day (AUS), Lee Westwood (ENG), Charl Schwartzel (RSA), Ben Crane (USA)
72 - Gregory Havret (FRA), Charley Hoffman (USA), Martin Laird (SCO), Bill Haas (USA), Angel Cabrera (ARG), Ernie Els (RSA), John Daly (USA), Spencer Levin (USA), Prom Meesawat (THA), Harrison Frazar (USA), Anthony Kim (USA), Robert Karlsson (SWE), Zach Johnson (USA), Justin Rose (ENG), Jim Furyk (USA), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Tom Watson (USA), SM Bae (KOR), Lee Corfield (ENG)
73 - Bo Van Pelt (USA), Francesco Molinari (ITA), Matteo Manassero (ITA), Peter Hanson (SWE), Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Paul Lawrie (SCO), Sean O'Hair (USA), Thorbjorn Olesen (NOR), Mark Laskey (WAL), Neil Schietekat (RSA), Martin Maritz (RSA), Sandy Lyle (SCO), Joost Luiten (NED), Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN), Padraig Harrington (IRL), Alejandro Canizares (ESP)
74 - Nathan Green (AUS), Jerry Kelly (USA), Geoff Ogilvy (AUS), Nick Watney (USA), Paul Casey (ENG), Ryo Ishikawa (JPN), Jason Dufner (USA), Kevin Na (USA), Bob Estes (USA), Thomas Shadbolt (ENG), Rick Kulacz (AUS), Simon Lilly (ENG), Thomas Aiken (RSA), Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Mark Wilson (USA), Steve Marino (USA), Matt Kuchar (USA)
75 - Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Rhys Davies (WAL), Gary Woodland (USA), KT Kim (KOR), Alvaro Quiros (ESP), Hiroyuki Fujita (JPN), Tetsuji Hiratsuka (JPN), Hunter Mahan (USA), Brian Davis (ENG), Scott Jamieson (SCO), Brandt Snedeker (USA), Jonathan Byrd (USA), Hiroo Kawai (JPN), Bernhard Langer (GER)
76 - Prayad Marksaeng (THA), Mark O'Meara (USA), Retief Goosen (RSA), Kevin Streelman (USA)
77 - Markus Brier (AUT), Todd Hamilton (USA), Ben Curtis (USA), Aaron Baddeley (AUS), Francis McGuirk (ENG), Chris Tidland (USA)
78 - David Duval (USA)
82 - Craig Hinton (ENG), Simon Edwards (WAL)