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Americans still strong despite Tiger exit: McGinley

By Phil Casey

Paul McGinley knows his Europe side will face a major test in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles despite the absence of Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champion withdrew from contention for the United States team for next month's eagerly-await competition as a result of a season-long battle with a back injury.

Woods missed the first two majors of the year due to injury after undergoing surgery in March, then only just made the cut at The Open before failing to do so in the final major of 2014, last week's PGA Championship won by Ulsterman Rory McIlroy.

The 38-year-old revealed his back was sore at Valhalla and has opted to rule himself out of contention for Tom Watson's side when they attempt to regain the Ryder Cup.

Europe captain McGinley refused to suggest Woods' absence will come as a boost for the Europeans and has no doubt the USA have plenty of quality alternatives.

"As I said when asked about this last week during the US PGA Championship in Kentucky, this is a matter for Tom Watson and for Tiger himself. It is not for me to comment on," McGinley said.

"What I do know, though, is that Tom will have 12 very formidable players at his disposal and myself and the team are under no illusions about the scale of the task we will face against the United States at Gleneagles."

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn overcame testing conditions and an encounter with overhead power lines to make the perfect start to his bid to seal a Ryder Cup place on home soil.

Bjorn has not played in the biennial contest since 2002 but has occupied an automatic qualifying spot since winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in December.

The 43-year-old dropped out of the European points list recently and is now relying on the world points list, but looks to have done enough to make the European team which will defend the trophy at Gleneagles from September 26.

Victory in the inaugural Made In Denmark event would make absolutely certain and Bjorn was determined to impress a sell-out crowd, with more than 70,000 spectators expected at Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort, where Bjorn won his first event as a professional in 1995.

And the world number 24 duly delivered, carding a flawless opening 66 to share the lead with Chile's Felipe Aguilar and Welshman Bradley Dredge on five under par.

"It was obviously tricky with the wind, especially when it got up on the back nine, but I drove the ball really well and that gives you opportunities on this golf course," Bjorn said.

The Dane came up against an unusual local hazard, his approach to the par-four fifth hitting overhead power cables and coming up well short of the green.

Bjorn was required to drop another ball and retake the shot, this time finding the putting surface and two-putting for par.

Belfast's Michael Hoey is two over, while Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin is four over.

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