Thomas flying high at 42on December 8, 2013
The word resurgent might be an unfair one to describe Thomas Bjorn, given that the implication would be that his game, at some point, must have been poor. But in the last three years, the Dane has taken his career to another level, and, at 42, his outstanding form is arguably delaying his inevitable future post as a Ryder Cup captain.
His is yet another potent name in the field at this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, and, after producing two bogey-free rounds to start his tournament, a superb birdie at the 18th hole on Saturday rounded off a sparkling 66 to leave him right in the mix to take the $1.25 million prize.
“It was a good day,” Bjorn smiled. “I played solid again and played the way that I wanted to play really. I just kind of plodded along and took a few chances, and then it was obviously nice to finish with that one on the last.”
He said of his chances in the final round: “I just have to try and plod along and take my chances and see what Jamie (Donaldson) does. If it comes down to the last few holes and you need to try and make something happen then you might go for something, but until then you have to stay patient.”
After turning pro in 1993, Bjorn gained his European Tour card in 1996 – a debut season in which he finished 10th on the Order of Merit. In the decade that followed, he was a measure of consistency, as a 21st-place finish in the standings proved to be his lowest. He twice played on a winning Ryder Cup team during this time (1997 and 2002), and accumulated in excess of €11 million.
But, by his high standards, a relative slump ensued in 2007, and he would have to wait until 2011 to return to the top 50 in the Race to Dubai. For a man in his late thirties, a return to form is never guaranteed. His appointment as chairman of the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, and as Ryder Cup vice captain (in 2010), were tributes to his established standing on the circuit, and were due rewards given the respect he commands from both his peers and officials.
However, it might have also been interpreted as a sign that his best days were behind him as a golfer. It took a prolific 2011 season to disprove such a theory, and three wins demonstrated that his ambition to return to the European Ryder Cup team is as a player, not captain. A solid 2012 ensued, and in 2013, he finished 10th in the Race to Dubai after twice finishing second, along with clinching the Omega European Masters for a second time.
“I just feel that I am hitting the ball so well and driving the ball well and we all know that makes the game a little easier. When you are striking it well you don’t feel like you have to chase it all the time and it just makes the game much more enjoyable,” observed Bjorn.
“I have been playing well for a long time now and especially since the start of the Final Series,” he continued. “I played well in China, Turkey and Dubai and then again at the World Cup. I am almost at a stage where I don’t want the season to end because I am playing so well. But I am going to have to take a break.”
More than €1.5 million in earnings for 2013 certainly backs up his sentiments, and after nearly 30 events, a holiday is richly deserved. A win here at Sun City would be a popular one, and also his 15th on the European Tour. With Ryder Cup points on the line, it would be a major step to earning his place at Gleneagles next year. But in a sport where a player’s peak age is so varied, one feels that the best may yet be to come from Bjorn. Who’s to say next year would be his last chance?