Bjorn rolls back the years
Thomas Bjorn (Gallo Images)
Gleneagles - Thomas Bjorn rediscovered his British Open form after an unhappy stint in the United States to shoot a second straight round in the 60's and claim a share of the lead in the Johnnie Walker Championship on Friday.
The 40-year-old Dane followed up an opening-round 68 with a 3-under 69 in chilly, overcast conditions at the PGA Centenary course in Gleneagles which will host the 2014 Ryder Cup, joining Italy's Lorenzo Gagli and England's Kenneth Ferrie on 7 under.
After rolling back the years to finish fourth at Royal St. George's six weeks ago, the 70th-ranked Bjorn struggled in the U.S. by tying a lowly 68th at the Bridgestone Invitational and then missing the cut at the U.S. PGA Championship.
Returning to European soil, he is back in his element, impressing in the rain and cold in central Scotland as he bids for a second victory of 2011 following his win at the Qatar Masters in February.
"I played extremely well that week at the Open and got a lot of confidence. But I found myself in a position I always do where I then go to America and all of a sudden have to hit the ball straight up in the air. I found it impossible," said Bjorn, an 11-time winner on the European Tour.
"My confidence took a knock in America and I didn't feel comfortable at all with my golf. I went home and worked for a few days, came here and found a few things I need to do to control the ball again. I'm playing decent golf."
Bjorn dropped just one shot on Friday, on No. 15 (his sixth hole of the day), but three birdies around the turn propelled him up the leaderboard. He then picked up a fourth shot at the long par-4 No. 7.
Ferrie mirrored Bjorn's scoring to move into contention for a first win since 2005, and Gagli — a graduate from the second-tier Challenge Tour — shot 68 to continue a strong recent run that saw him finish third in the Scottish Open, eighth in the Irish Open and fifth in the Czech Open last week.
Spain's Pablo Larrazabal (68) and England's James Morrison (69) are in the clubhouse a shot adrift, while Anthony Kang of the U.S. shot a 66 — the joint lowest of the week with overnight leader Mark Foster — to move to 5 under alongside former winner Marc Warren of Scotland (69), France's Raphael Jacquelin (70), England's Oliver Wilson (69) and Sweden's Magnus Carlsson (72).
Defending champion Edoardo Molinari of Italy posted a 2-under 70 for level par and should make the weekend with Colin Montgomerie (73 for 1 under), the tournament chairman and 2010 Ryder Cup captain.
Current Europe Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal picked up a two-shot penalty on No. 2 for hitting the wrong ball, making a double-bogey 7 in a second straight 74 that means he'll miss the cut.
Foster, without a tournament win since 2003, was among the afternoon starters with Italy's Francesco Molinari (2 under), at No. 22 the highest-ranked player in the field.