Bjorn in Familiar Territory at Dubai - COPIED
The duo owns a one-shot edge over Ernie Els, the winner of the last week's Genuity Championship on the PGA Tour, Charlie Wi, Olle Karlsson, Ryder Cupper Niclas Fasth and his captain at the Belfry, Sam Torrance, who made his 2002 season debut after knee surgery.
The co-leaders are also making returns to the tour in some respects. For Bjorn, this is his first competitive action of the year after a shoulder injury caused him to miss several months.
'I didnt have any expectations,' said Bjorn, who bested Tiger Woods by two shots last year. 'I knew I was swinging the club well but I would have taken anything under par for my first competitive round of the year. I knew if I went out and hit the shots Ive been hitting on the range then I could shoot 64 but it could also have all gone up in the air.'
Karlsson's absence was for a more joyous occasion. Prior to Christmas, he welcomed his first daughter, Thea, into the world and he took time off to be a father after three tournaments early in the 2002 campaign.
'Thea, my baby daughter, was born on the 19th of December and I was getting used to being a father when I went to Australia,' said Karlsson, a four-time winner on the European Tour. 'Perhaps I should have practiced instead of playing. However Ive got over the shock of being a dad and Ive practiced hard during my break.'
Bjorn opened with three birdies in his first six holes at the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club before adding another birdie at No. 11. The Dane matched Karlsson for the lead with a birdie at the 17th hole to reach minus-five.
Karlsson took a different approach to his 67, mixing five birdies, two bogeys and an eagle. His birdie at the ninth, his final hole of Thursday's opening round, gave him the clubhouse lead over his playing partner, Els.
Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, collected five birdies and a bogey while showing no hangover from his win on the PGA Tour last weekend.
'I felt good today,' said Els, who won the Heineken Classic in early February. 'The celebrations and all that stuff was done and dusted. I like the course and Im ready to play.'
Torrance, the European Ryder Cup captain, came out on fire with four birdies in a row, starting at the second hole. He picked up two birdies and two bogeys the rest of the way for his 68.
'It was just down to wear and tear,' said Torrance of his knee injury. 'I hadnt had any problems before and it seems fine now. Today was all a bit of a shock, to be honest, but a nice way to start the year.'
Pierre Fulke, also a member of the European Ryder Cup team, posted a 3-under 69 and shares eighth with Mark Mouland, Paul Broadhurst, Gregory Havret, Sven Struver and John Bickerton.
Padraig Harrington shot a 2-under 70 while Colin Montgomerie carded a 1-under 71 Thursday and is part of a logjam tied for 28th.
Darren Clarke, Justin Rose and Nick Faldo are part of a group at even-par 72, five shots out of the lead.
Full field scores from the Dubai Desert Classic
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.
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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.
Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.
But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.
“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”
Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.
“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”
After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.
In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.
No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.
Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.
“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”
And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.
Let it go.
Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.
“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”
It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.
During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.
Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.
“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.
McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.
It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.
“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”
The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.
Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.
The only thing left to do?
Let it go.
Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.
Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.
Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.
There is, however, one running wager.
“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”
Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.
Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.
“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.