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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Open leaders have differing memories

SANDWICH, England - Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis have nothing in common except for the unlikely position they shared Thursday atop the leaderboard at the British Open. It's not just that one is twice as old. Or that Bjorn is a 40-year-old pro who wonders how much longer he can compete at the highest level, while Lewis is an amateur making his major championship debut, his best golf still to come. The biggest difference are their memories of Royal St. George's.
Bjorn took a small step toward atonement with a birdie on the par-3 16th — the hole that cost him the claret jug in 2003 when he took three shots to escape a pot bunker — on his way to a 5-under 65 in the toughest conditions of the opening round. He made a birdie on Thursday, and couldn't help but smile when he saw it bounce away from trouble and toward the flag. "When I hit the shot, I thought, 'This is going to struggle.' So when it just made it over that bunker, that was just a smile of knowing that things were going my way today," Bjorn said. Lewis ran off four consecutive birdies late in his round, an amazing stretch that began on the par-5 14th. That's the hole where Lewis wrapped up the British Boys Amateur Championship two years ago, the highlight of a sterling amateur record. A par on the final hole gave him a 65, the lowest by an amateur in the British Open, making him the first amateur to lead this championship in 43 years. "It was a special moment for me, winning here, and to come back to where you've won is extra special," Lewis said. "I was just thrilled to be here, but to shoot 65 the first round was something I wouldn't have thought. I was just happy to get the drive off the tee at the first, and that was all that mattered." Adding to the nerves was playing alongside Tom Watson, such a popular figure in the Lewis household that they named their oldest son after the five-time Open champion. And to think the kid only wanted to make sure he didn't embarrass himself in front of Watson. "He could be my grandson," Watson said. "I just had to smile inside to watch him play. I didn't play particularly well myself, but I certainly was impressed by the way he played." Bjorn wasn't even in the tournament until Vijay Singh withdrew on Monday, giving the Dane another shot at Royal St. George's. When someone suggested if he would be better off not playing to avoid memories of his meltdown, Bjorn cut him off. "A couple of people asked me that question, 'Would you not just want to go home?' " Bjorn said. "This is The Open Championship. Where else do you want to be?" Miguel Angel Jimenez also played in the windy morning conditions and had a bogey-free 66. He was joined later in the round by former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson. A dozen players were at 68, a group that includes two major champions from last year — PGA winner Martin Kaymer and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who was 3 over through five holes until a rally. It was vintage links golf along the Strait of Dover. Flags that were crackling throughout the morning when Bjorn and Jimenez faced cold conditions and a spot of rain were only rippling when Lewis teed off in the afternoon, and they were drooping when the round ended. The change was reflected in the scores. Rory McIlroy, coming off an eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open that made the 22-year-old the centerpiece of this major, rallied from a sloppy start for a 1-over 71. "Anywhere around even par is a good start," McIlroy said. It didn't feel that way toward the end of a long day. The morning half of the draw were a combined 223-over par. The afternoon half combined to go only 94-over par. There were a dozen rounds in the 60s in the morning, and 23 in the afternoon. The calmer conditions are expected for this morning when Lewis goes out for his second round. "We're used to the wind," Lewis said. "Watching it on the TV this morning, I didn't think scores would be as low as they are. But the wind dropped, and that was the opportunity to shoot a good score. And I'm thankful I did play well." Far more impressive was Bjorn, because of the conditions and his history on this ancient turf. Bjorn also made his move on the 14th, making back-to-back birdies. And then came the par-3 16th. It was his first time on that hole in competition since that dreadful Sunday afternoon in 2003. Just like then, he had a two-shot lead in the British Open. His tee shot had him concerned as it drifted in the blustery wind toward one of the seven bunkers guarding the green. The ball barely cleared a bunker, hopped onto the green and trundled toward the hole. "That gives you the trust and belief that sometimes things can turn out your way, and it does that in links golf," Bjorn said. "We all know what it's like — a bounce here or there and then it goes either wrong or right. And today it went my way."
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