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Great Dane Wins in Qatar

But does it matter that he hasn't won a Major asks Dermot Gilleece

Posted Feb 08, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece


Back in 2003, after he had lost a play-off to Padraig Harrington in the Deutsche Bank Open, Thomas Bjorn reckoned that only about six or seven Europeans were capable of winning a major championship at that time.  While including Padraig Harrington on his list, Bjorn added: “I certainly want to be the first Scandinavian to make the breakthrough. That's the only thing I need to prove to myself."

Though he didn’t name them, the other players the Dane probably had in mind would have included Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, none of whom has delivered. 

Bjorn could hardly have imagined his own best chance coming only a short time after our chat.  As it happened, he squandered a glorious opportunity of an Open Championship triumph at Royal St George’s, where American Ben Curtis effectively backed into the title. Still, the Dane’s victory in Qatar last weekend - his 11th on the European Tour - emphasised the degree to which he has overcome adversity in a fairly productive career.

He and Harrington, who have known each other since their amateur days, seemed to be locked together from an early stage of their golfing development. In fact it is interesting to recall the European Amateur Team Championship at Puerto de Hierro, Madrid in 1991, when Ireland beat Denmark by 4-3 on the final day.  In the top foursomes, Bjorn, who was partnered by Ben Tinning, lost by 2 and 1 to Harrington and Paul McGinley. That was the year, incidentally, he added the Danish Matchplay title to his national strokeplay success of the previous season.

"I think amateur and professional golfers occupy two different worlds,” he went on.  “As an amateur, you live in a team environment whereas a tournament professional is on his own.  To succeed on tour, you have to change your game.  Look at Padraig.  He's got himself to the point where he's the best European golfer at this time.  That's my next target, but you've got to broaden your horizons.  Golf is now a world game and you set your standards by the world rankings.  You can't really confine yourself to Europe."

Rivalry with the Dubliner was renewed almost from the moment they turned professionals.  Bjorn was named Rookie of the Year for 1996 when Harrington was also in line for the award, having captured the Spanish Open title in his first year on tour.  "Padraig and I were very close during our first couple of years on tour,” said the Dane.  “In fact up to the end of 1998, we and our wives spent a lot of time together off the golf course. Since then, our closeness has got less and less but we consider each other friends in the sense that we would never have any problem spending time together.  There is still a very definite bond there."  

This was evident in the fact that Bjorn felt it necessary to approach Harrington in 2003 before entering into an arrangement with Bob Torrance as his coach.  "I could see the massive influence Bob had on Padraig's development,” he said.  “Sure, Padraig's hard work has had a lot to do with his success, but from the outside looking in, I could see the way his golf game changed dramatically from the day he started working with Bob.  No doubt."
In a world context, Bjorn has shown himself to be remarkably versatile.  Though the 2003 Open remains a bitter disappointment, he can reflect on a second-place finish behind Tiger Woods in the 2000 Open at St Andrews and third behind Woods in the PGA at Valhalla later that summer.

And even without a prized “major”, he can look to a consistency which has eluded Harrington since capturing the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in August 2008.  In fact since then, Bjorn, who was born seven months earlier than Harrington in 1971, captured the Portuguese Open last April, prior to Sunday’s win.

While it may be poor compensation for the absence of a major, it speaks volumes for the Dane’s application to a game which, it could be argued, has treated him rather shabbily over the years.

- Dermot Gilleece

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