Bjorn snatches early lead

Bjorn snatches early lead

Dane battles windy conditions to card five-under 65

Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn hits out of a bunker during the first round of the British Open golf championship in Sandwich on Thursday. AFP

The 40-year-old, handed a last-gasp place in the 140th edition of the oldest major championship in golf when Fiji's Vijay Singh pulled out on Monday, made light of windy conditions on the Kent coast to fire a five-under-par 65.

"Today was a massive step in the right direction for me because mentally I was very strong," Bjorn told reporters. "I stayed with it all the way round the course -- sometimes that's a problem for me. "One thing I've been struggling with off late is to get off to a decent start. That also happened today so it was a good day in a lot of ways."

While Bjorn was flying high after reeling off four birdies in five holes on the back nine, tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was struggling to make an impact on two-over-par after 16. The 22-year-old Briton, the subject of 'Rory-mania' at Sandwich as a result of his commanding eight-shot win at the US Open last month, prompted groans from his army of fans when he three-putted the first hole.

McIlroy dropped another stroke when he failed to get up and down from off the green at the third but he hit a mid-range iron at the eighth and drilled his ball under the 20-mph breezes to within eight feet of the flag and sank his birdie putt.

The Northern Irishman, however, then carded his third bogey of the day at the par-four 13th. Bjorn was three strokes ahead with four holes to play in the 2003 Open before a calamitous bogey-double bogey-bogey run effectively handed the Claret Jug trophy to American Ben Curtis.

Eight years on it was a different story for the Qatar Masters champion as he peppered the flags on the inward half. At the par-three 16th he struck a majestic tee shot to eight feet before his curling birdie putt disappeared into the cup.