ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Thomas Bjorn shot an 8-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead in the first round of the $5 million Dunhill Links championship on Thursday.
The 38-year-old Dane bounced back from the disappointment of seeing his European team lose the Vivendi Trophy last week to make six birdies and an eagle on the 7,160-yard Kingsbarns layout on the outskirts of St. Andrews.
“I drove the ball fantastic all day and that set it up,” he said, adding that he missed just one fairway, and that only by inches.
“When you drive it as well as I did today, the golf course becomes very simple and for the first time in a long time I rolled in a few putts,” Bjorn said. “It has been a while since I walked off feeling like this.”
Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland shot a 66, also at Kingsbarns, to share second place with Ross McGowan, who had the best score on The Old Course at St. Andrews.
A group of six on 67 included Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, who only got into the tournament last week when Paul Casey withdrew. Jose Manuel Lara of Spain had a 67 at St. Andrews, where the British Open will be played next year.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, third in this event two years ago, had a 68 at Carnoustie, as did Darren Clarke. Two-time champion Padraig Harrington shot 70 at Carnoustie, where he won the first of his two successive Open titles in 2007.
Defending champion Robert Karlsson struggled to a 76 at Carnoustie, while former champion and European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie shot 73.
The field of 168 play a round on each of the three courses over the first three days before the cut for the final round on The Old Course on Sunday. The champion wins $800,000.
Bjorn captained Europe in a 16 1/2 -11 1/2 loss to Britain and Ireland last week in the Vivendi Trophy, a Ryder Cup-style team event. He is also the chairman of the Players Tournament Committee, and those duties have been taking up a lot of his time.
“I put a lot into last week and there has been a lot of stuff going on this year. These are tough, worrying times with companies cutting sponsorships ,and I have those responsibilities on behalf of the players,” Bjorn said. “But today, nothing was out of synch. Everything came together.”
Starting at the 10th, Bjorn birdied four of his first seven holes. He eagled the long third with a 30-foot putt and birdied two of the next three with good approaches.
McIlroy, who is playing the pro-am side of this event with his father Gerry, was 1 over after four holes but birdied five holes after that.
“This sets me up for a nice week,” he said. “It was a solid start on the toughest course and gives me something to build on.”
McIlroy is third in the lucrative Race to Dubai standings, but with Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey injured, he could pass them both this week.
Harrington admitted that memories of his 2007 Open triumph came flooding back.
“I think on every hole there was something that jogged the memory,” said the Irishman, who has had top-10 finishes in his last six events after missing eight cuts earlier in the year as he remodeled his swing.