Denmark’s Bjorn, the current Race To Dubai leader, had shot a 10-under-par 62, a new course record since changes introduced in 2010 turned it from a par 71 to a par 72, and he looked to be running away with the European Tour’s flagship tournament on the first morning.
Lowry, though, had other ideas. A terrible start to his campaign, with just two cuts made in eight starts, had given way to optimism with a top-15 finish at the Spanish Open last week, and yesterday the two-time European Tour winner found his missing spark in a championship he finished tied for fifth in three years ago and tied for 12th last year.
The Irishman sank 10 birdies, six on the back nine, with just two dropped shots to record his best round since a 64 at Carnoustie last September in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and take second place overnight, two shots behind the leader.
Lowry put it all down to the reunion he had with an old putter, one of around 20 he keeps lying about his Dublin apartment and sent back in to surface last week at the Spanish Open.
“I just went back to the putter I used here before,” Lowry said. “I’ve got a little putting mat back in my apartment back home and I have been messing about here and there with putters, and pulled this one out.
“Got the cobwebs off it and managed... the greens were lovely last week in Catalunya and I managed to hole a few putts early on, and saw myself holing a few putts over the weekend, and fortunately enough that was the case today and hopefully it will be the same for the remainder of the week.”
Lowry said he was happy to be back on the big stage after struggling through the early part of the season, even though he had to cope with two play stoppages, the first of which saw the players kept out on the course for 45 minutes despite the threat of lightning.
“I’ve been waiting to play these big tournaments because I quite enjoy them as I love the buzz around them, the big crowds, big golf courses. I am not saying that is my reason for my poor stretch of form this year, that’s solely down to my poor putting.
“I don’t want to say too much, and I don’t want to jinx myself too much but I feel like I am putting nicely and that runs through your whole game.”
If Lowry’s hope had been renewed at PGA Catalunya last week, Bjorn’s had been sapped as he missed the Spanish Open cut. But what a way to rebound, a bogey-free 10-under-par round that included an eagle at the par-five 12th.
“I don’t really know where to start with this,” Bjorn said, “because last week was awful, and I was starting to feel a bit frustrated with things, and, to be honest, in practice, it hasn’t been great, either. And to go out on this golf course of all places, and play like I did today, is a little bit surprising.
“So one of those days where you just walk off the golf course and you think, ‘I want to keep playing’.”
Second-placed Lowry lies a shot ahead of Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello going into today’s second round, with Frenchman Gary Stal on six under after an opening 66, while South Africa’s Julian Walters posted a five-under 67 to share fifth place with Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti and England’s Anthony Wall.
If that pack chasing Bjorn and Lowry lacks a little star power, the big guns are not too far behind. Rory McIlroy, Players Championship winner Martin Kaymer, world number three Henrik Stenson and Masters runner-up Jonas Blixt are among a host of players on four under.
US Open champion Justin Rose carded a two-under 70, as did fellow Englishman Ian Poulter. Two-time winner Luke Donald finished one under alongside Rose’s tournament co-favourite Lee Westwood, who had been three over after 11 holes.
Reigning champion Matteo Manassero’s title defence began and most likely ended with an eight-over 80, including a quadruple-bogey nine at the 17th, while world number seven Sergio Garcia withdrew from the tournament with a knee injury, in the hope of being fit for next month’s US Open.
Pádraig Harrington shot a 69 on a course that has done him few favours in the past, and that would have looked even better had it not been for Bjorn’s 62.
“I’m trying to care less. I’m trying to try less. I’m trying to be happier, luckier, freer, more carefree. Any of those words you can think of,” Harrington said.
“Maybe try to create the attitude where you think you are playing well and enjoy it more. Not work so hard at it. All the things you wouldn’t tell somebody but I tend to do the opposite, do it a little over the top. I’ve to work hard to take it easy. And that’s it. It really is a matter of not trying too hard.”
Harrington’s improvement with the putter comes as a result of reading greens better and overcoming the yips.