Former Ryder Cup winner Thorbjorn Olesen hopes the best years of his career are still ahead of him as he claimed a share of the lead after day one of the Betfred British Masters at The Belfry.
Olesen carded six birdies and no bogeys in a superb 66 which was matched late in the day by New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, who birdied his last three holes.
The pair enjoyed a one-shot lead over Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, Germany’s Hurly Long and China’s Ashun Wu, while defending champion Richard Bland carded a 73 on his 500th DP World Tour appearance.
Olesen, who beat three-time major winner Jordan Spieth in their singles match at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, is attempting to rebuild his career after he was cleared in December last year of sexually assaulting a woman on a British Airways flight in July 2019.
The 32-year-old claimed he turned into an “automaton” and was not in control of his body after drinking and taking prescription-only sleeping pills before a flight from Nashville to London, following a tournament in Memphis.
“There’s a lot of things I want to accomplish,” said Olesen, who was ranked 62nd in the world at the time of the incident but is currently 376th.
“You have to stay in the present, obviously, but it’s been a while since I’ve been in the winner’s circle and that’s my main goal this year. I’ve not been working hard enough for a few years to be at that level, so I know there is a lot of work to be done.
“There have been certain points where you are not sure if you can get back, so it comes down to confidence and belief and there have been a few hard days.
“But I feel I am on the right track now and starting to get a team back together that is helping me again – I think that is very important.
“This year I’ve had some good rounds where the last three or four holes I made some stupid bogeys and put myself out of contention.
“I feel as if I’ve had chances to be in contention but just haven’t finished it off, really. I need to be up there a bit more to feel comfortable. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to be up there.
“I should have some years left in me – hopefully the best years. I still have a lot of goals and that’s why I’ve started to work hard again and I want to get back to winning and back up the world rankings.”
Ramsay, whose season has been disrupted by a shoulder injury, credited the return of crowds to tournaments following the Covid-19 pandemic for his improved form as he seeks a first win since 2015.
“There’s more of an atmosphere and you want to play well because lots of people are turning out,” Ramsay said after a 67 featuring six birdies and one bogey. “It really felt like a proper tournament.
“When you enjoy it, it makes your job a lot easier and I feel like I lost it a little bit until the injury I had meant I couldn’t play for a while.”
Lee Westwood, who is both a former winner and host of the event, had to settle for an opening 72 after dropping shots on his last two holes, while former Masters champion Danny Willett – who is hosting for the second straight year – returned a 73.
“It was a bit scrappy towards the end but if we can get ourselves a nice low one on Friday with fresh greens in the morning we can kind of put ourselves back in there,” Willett said.