Bjorn returns to Ryder Cup as a player

Europe's Thomas Bjorn speaks during a press conference ahead of the Ryder Cup golf tournament at Gleneagles, Scotland, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham

GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) Thomas Bjorn has been a strong presence for Europe in the Ryder Cup, part of five winning teams. So it was not unusual to see him at Gleneagles dressed in uniform.

Except for one big difference.

He had spikes in his golf shoes. He walked over to a spot on the practice range where there was a bag with his name on it. The 43-year-old Dane tipped over a small bucket of balls and actually hit them.

Bjorn is back at the Ryder Cup, this time as a player for the first time in 12 years.

''I can't really think of anything better than this,'' he said Tuesday.

Only one other player has gone more than five Ryder Cups between appearances as a competitor. That was Christy O'Connor Jr., who returned to action in 1989 at The Belfry and delivered a 2-iron into the 18th to beat Fred Couples in what remains one of the clutch moments in Ryder Cup history.

''I'm just delighted to be back,'' Bjorn said. ''It was nice to walk in that locker room and actually see a golf bag with your name on it. It's been a while. From all the way down in the heart, it feels good to be back.''

Bjorn never trailed in a 2-and-1 victory over Stewart Cink in 2002 at The Belfry, a big part of Europe winning back the cup. He was a vice captain to Bernhard Langer in 2004, to Colin Montgomerie in 2010, and to Jose Maria Olazabal two years ago.

He nearly made the last team, and began to believe that was his last chance to compete.

''I'm closing in on age,'' he said. ''But I've been very determined in my golf. You get to a stage in your career where you're so scared of letting it go that you just continue, and you find ways of getting around golf courses. I played really well at the back end of last year and most parts of this season. So I've stayed very focused on my golf and not so much what it could lead to.

''To come back to this team, and certainly (with) the state of European golf today, for me is one of the better achievements of my career, I have to say.''

That's a strong statement for a player with 17 victories worldwide, including one in Dubai where he took down Tiger Woods at the height of his game. Bjorn played all 72 holes with Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic in 2001 and overcame a one-shot deficit on the last day.

Making this European team was difficult enough. The real chore for Bjorn is to concentrate on his own game instead of the team dynamics. That's for captain Paul McGinley and his assistants at Gleneagles.

''I'm very well aware of what my role is this week, and it's on the golf course,'' Bjorn said. ''That's a conversation that I had with Paul over the last couple of months - concentrate on being me and playing the golf that I can play, and not really worry too much about everything else.''

Bjorn has never lost in a Ryder Cup, joining McGinley as the only Europeans at Gleneagles who have been part of at least five Ryder Cups with a perfect mark.

As a player or a vice captain, he still speaks the same language when it comes to the Ryder Cup.

''We believe in having fun and keeping it light, and we never underestimate what we're up against,'' Bjorn said. ''We know what the opponent is capable of, and so we believe that if we stick together, we can deliver a result, and we've been successful in doing that.''

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