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May 16, 2007

Thomas Bjorn


RODDY WILLIAMS: Thomas, welcome to the Irish Open as defending champion. Different course obviously this year but how are you feeling coming into this week?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I felt pretty good last week. Obviously a little bit different circumstances last week, a shorter golf course and a little bit better weather, but I felt pretty good about what I did last week and, you know, I'm going to try to bring it -- it's always nice to come back to a tournament that you've won. But it's a new venue. It's certainly much different than what we've been playing the last few weeks. So it's just go out and knuckle down and not think too much about what happened in the past and try and get on in this tournament.
RODDY WILLIAMS: Did you play in the J.P. McManus a couple of years ago?
RODDY WILLIAMS: Did you notice the course changes?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I don't think you can do anything but notice the course changes here. We're not talking about changes holes by ten yards. We're talking about changing some of them by 60, 70 yards, so you certainly notice a difference.
And being that the golf course is very wet and the rough is probably only seen as severe as the U.S. Open as this; that makes it into an interesting week. And you certainly have to be on your game to do any -- to shoot any good numbers here.

Q. Do you think the course is too tough for a regular tournament?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I think -- I think when you look at golf course setups, a few years back the players on this tour complained that had we didn't play enough tough golf courses and that didn't prepare us to win major championships. Now I think we play a lot of difficult golf courses, a lot of difficult setups. And we're not winning major championships anyway. (Laughter).
So I don't know really where to go with it but I think it's a balance act. I think we have to be very careful; that we are in the entertainment business and we are in a business where people want to see birdies and eagles and we don't want to take that away from the game of golf but it has to be on balance act and some weeks we have to play tough golf course and some weeks we have to may easier golf courses.
I don't think this golf course is too tough but I think if you play it every week, I think the game of golf loses a bit of charm, because there's some thing to the game of golf that a guy at 6-under through ten holes that can take it to 10-under through 18. There's also that element of the game and that's going to be very difficult on this golf course, I can tell you that.
So it's a balance act where you have to play tough golf courses and easier golf courses, too, because it is the entertainment business and people want to watch birdies and eagles. They don't want to watch every week guys making bogeys and hacking it out of the rough.

Q. The length is fine in good weather?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, I mean, we've got a good tournament director. I'm sure they will deal with the conditions and know what weather is going to be like. Fortunately on new golf courses like this we have plenty of tee boxes to play around with and I'm sure that David Probyn will take that into consideration.

Q. There is also an element within the public which says it is nice to see they are human after all?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Yeah, I think -- and that's why I said to you, I think you've got to have both. You've got to have your U.S. Opens and your US PGAs where the golf courses are tough.
At Augusta this year, we certainly saw how difficult the golf course can be played. I think you've got to have that element and there's got to be rewards for guys that can battle it out and stay with it even though it seems very tough.
But there's also got to be the other element in the game of golf. Some of the post enjoyable tournaments I've watched over the years is where guys take it low and you've got to make three or four, five birdies over the last six, seven holes to win the golf tournament. I think you've got to have that.
I think you've got to balance it out. There's got to be room for both.

Q. If you were setting out your schedule for the season, what are the key elements in a tournament for you and is money an issue?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I think it's a lot of things. I think it's different for every player. I set out my schedule pretty much the same every year and I always have done. There's places I like to go, courses, countries, places where I've done well in the past where I feel welcomed.
Money comes into the equation, yeah, it does for me at times. I think it does for everyone. But there's so much money in the game of golf today it doesn't really matter what the first prize. So I think we all want to play in the big tournaments, and if you are qualified to the big tournaments, I think money takes care of itself. I don't think that's a major factor.
I think the major factor is: Where I can go and perform and I feel comfortable to go and perform. And that's why we play those tournaments, and there's certain tournaments you feel like you have to play. Next week you have to play if you're a European Tour member and there's some tournaments you might have to play even though the guys might not like the golf course. I certainly feel obligated to play next week but I don't think money is the major issue. I think it's where you feel comfortable playing and seeing yourself performing.

Q. How can a tournament organizer, with a new venue know if you will be comfortable. In other words, if someone asked you what would make you come and play their tournament, what would you say?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I would love to talk to people, but I'm sure it's other people they want than me to come and play golf tournaments. Yeah, I think, you know, you've got to go to tournaments -- you can't guarantee you get great fields unless you get a status like the BMW PGA Championship next week or THE PLAYERS Championship and you're pretty much guaranteed there.
But I think that's down to the Tour to promote the tournaments but you're never going to be guaranteed to get players. This tournament has suffered by Darren not being here. That's a big loss for the tournament. But all in all, the players that are here, all of the great players, I think one of the things that people have got to take a very big note of on this tour is that we have a major generation change. That might be that people don't know that many of the players on this tour, but I'm telling you, in five years, a lot of those guys, people will know a lot about and they will come through and be the strength of the Tour. We're just going through a generation change.

Q. Who are some of those players you see?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I think Oliver Wilson, Ross Fisher, I think they are two players that are going to go into a great future. Alvaro Quiros out of Spain is a great player. You see a lot of talent. When you stand on the range next to them you can certainly see that there's a lot of potential. I think that's just players that will take -- Andres Romero. They are players that will take their game to a different level. I just think that we've got to start looking at all of the talent we have coming through instead of saying, well, the top guys are not playing. Well, the top guys are just changing.

Q. What's the biggest difference you see in this new generation?
THOMAS BJÖRN: There's no fear. That's the difference. When I came out on Tour, you had a lot of respect for your Faldos and Olazábals and your Montgomeries, and it took you quite a while to just feel comfortable.
These kids don't care. They just come out. They have one goal in mind, and they just want to win golf tournaments and they don't care who they are up against. That's the big difference I see today. They are going to come out in strength and come out in bigger numbers as well. They just don't care and think about themselves and get to win golf tournaments which is the right approach in doing it.

Q. Is there a danger of this new generation heading to America and forgetting about Europe and being comfortable here?
THOMAS BJÖRN: No, I don't think so. I think for most players, they will always have a big heart in Europe. I think it's for our Tour to make it attractive to play golf in Europe and I think we do that certain times of year. I mean, we've had this discussion plenty of times. You know, this tour has to be -- certain times of year has to be attractive to everybody, and that's what we are doing. We are making it attractive early part of the season in the Middle East. We have a good stretch over the summer where a lot of people will come back and play and that's what we have to do.
We can't fight the PGA Tour, and I think George (O'Grady) of all people knows that he can't fight it over the season. So I think he's just got to make tournaments attractive to them and those guys won't forget that. They will come back here and play golf. We'll lose some but some will come back, as well.

Q. This is your third year of being cold and wet in the Irish Open, would you come back if you weren't defending?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Yeah, I don't think I've missed the Irish Open too many times in my career. I have a great relationship with this tournament, not only because I won last year; I lost to Campbell in a playoff at Portmarnock. I enjoyed my time in Ballybunion maybe more off the golf course than on it. But I've enjoyed my Irish Opens, and it's a priority of mine to come back and play just because I enjoy the golf tournament and I enjoy Ireland. That's one of the things I put a note to.
So I would have come back and played. Some people look at the golf courses. I look more -- in this instance, I look more at the country than the golf course.

Q. Has the event suffered because of the date on the calander?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I would say this year that it's an argument that it's a difficult date because it's the week after THE PLAYERS Championship. That I can see as a little bit of a problem with the guys that are coming back from America playing last week and they have to play at Wentworth next week. You know, that's two very big golf tournaments in the calendar.
Yeah, a tournament that's tucked right in between them might suffer a bit from that. But I still think you've got some good players here. When it comes down to it, the most important player of all is here and comes back and plays, and you've got other Irish players and they will come out and perform and there are still some players that will be around him. But any tournament can have a great date, and that date changes the next year to the to be the greatest of dates, and that's just the way it goes sometimes.

Q. Would a bigger prize fund help?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Money's not important for me.

Q. But it does count for its position on the calendar?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, that's not a question for me to answer. I think that's a question for George O'Grady to answer.

Q. Is the European Tour being squeezed by the revised schedule on the US Tour and will be squeezed even more as the FedEx series comes to its conclusion?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I think The European Tour has never been any stronger than it is as a tour. We've got all of 50 golf tournaments, we've got a lot of successful golf tournaments that go on for a long time and one of our fears was that the FedEx series was going to squeeze out a lot of golf tournaments. We just got Cologne back which is a big tournament on this tour and we have great tournaments opposite the FedEx series. I don't think we feel squeezed by the PGA Tour. I think that we feel that we bring our tour to the best of our abilities and it's very, very strong at the moment and the way things are looking we're going in the right direction with the tour. We just have to be very aware that there are tournaments in America in the schedule that at times we can't compete with.
It's going to be very natural considering there's three major championships on that side of the Atlantic and you've got all of the World Golf Championships there and THE PLAYERS Championship there, and those tournaments no matter where you are in the world, being Europe or Asia, you want to play in those tournaments and that's what we're up against. And we have to be realistic. But this tour, in the 12 years I've been out here, I don't think it's been any better than it is now.

Q. Should THE PLAYERS Championship be a fifth major?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, you know, what is a major championships, is that where the best field is. I think THE PLAYERS Championship has drawn the best players of the world for so many years, and the history -- it doesn't have the history to make it a major championship. But you know, at some stage you've got to turn around and say when does it have enough history to make it a major championship.
I certainly think from personal view, I think it's the best golf course we play all year. I think it's a fantastic-run golf tournament and it attracts the best field in the game of golf. What else do you want, you know. Then it's for somebody else to make out if they want to make it a major championship or not but I know when it stands in the players mind it stands very equal to all of the major championships. You want to play in it and the guy that win it is certainly feels like he's won the biggest title of his life if he's not Tiger Woods.
RODDY WILLIAMS: Best of luck this week.

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