Chris Wood is probably bigger than he was in 2008. And he was pretty big then. At 6’ 6”, you half expect the towering Bristolian to be shrouded in a gentle mist from the shoulders up.
Wood, the former BMW PGA champion and Ryder Cup player, is walking tall at the best of times but a return to Royal Birkdale this week for the 146th Open Championship may just see him striding out that little bit taller. This is where it all started for him, of course.
It is almost a decade since Wood, then still a teenage campaigner in the unpaid ranks, produced the kind of rousing, uplifting Open performance that almost got him honorary membership of the Southport & Ainsdale Amateur Dramatics Society.
While the local Southport lad Tommy Fleetwood, who is spearheading a fairly robust assault by English golfers on the global stage, will be commanding the spotlight of intrigue and interest as well as heaving the considerable burdens of heightened expectations in the fevered build-up to this year’s showpiece, Wood, despite his vast accumulation of feet and inches, can probably coast in under the radar.
Back in 2008, Wood was flying high. The last amateur to lift the Claret remains the great Bobby Jones, who won the third of his trio of titles in 1930, but Wood flirted with the possibility during that jolly July which remains seared on his mind and continues to stoke up pleasant reflections while offering plenty of inspiration.
“I can remember every single shot from that last round and it will always be the best week of my golfing life,” reflected the 29-year-old, who would be awarded the silver medal for his sterling efforts as the leading amateur in the field behind the eventual champion, Padraig Harrington. “I have the DVD but, funnily enough, I very rarely watch it. It’s maybe the thought of looking at at my hair and my trousers back then. Saying that, I’ll probably get my wife to bring the DVD to Birkdale next week. There’s no harm in watching it, maybe for how I played one hole or something just to get some insight again. The weather was tough that week but that didn’t bother me one bit. It’s only when you are on tour for a couple of years that you start picking at things.”
Thoughts of those carefree days in the amateur scene are almost greeted with a sense of dewy-eyed nostalgia from Wood. “I finished at half eight or nine o’clock at night in the first round and we just went for fish and chips on the way home,” he said. “I wouldn’t do that now. It’s all veg and protein shakes these days. You are almost on the wheel of professional golf. In 2008 it was all fresh, it was my first taste of the big stage and it meant everything to me. I have played in six or seven Opens now and it still means a lot. But I have experience now, I know what is coming. Back then, everything was new and exciting.”
Woods was just 19 in 2008. The leader going into the final round was 53. Greg Norman hadn’t played in a Major for three years and was enjoying a prolonged honeymoon with his new wife, the former tennis queen, Chris Evert. With his blond locks and healthy tan, this particular golden oldie looked as shimmering as something you’d fine in the vaults of Fort Knox. His golf was equally as sparkling.
As Norman continued to roll back the years and turn back the clock, there was a chance that the happy couple would add a Claret Jug to the piles of towels, cutlery sets, toasters and Teasmaids, or whatever it was that folk gave two multi-millionaires for a wedding gift.
In the end, Norman would run out of puff with a closing 77. Wood, meanwhile, was still in the merry midst of it until he reached the turn but Harrington majestically upped the ante coming home and romped away from everybody to seal a four shot win from Ian Poulter and claim back-to-back Open wins.
“It was pretty emotional stuff on the last day,” said Wood. “The thought of winning the Open never crossed my mind, though. Beforehand, my coach was saying, ‘you can win this, you can win this’. He was good at instilling that belief in me. He’s done that since I was 13. But I just wanted to win the silver medal. I was going along nicely. I think I birdied nine with Poulter and we were right in there. I got to the 11th and they had moved the tee up some 80 yards because of the weather. My dad was my caddie and we didn’t have a f***ing clue what to do. I was like ‘oh well, I’ll just hit a driver again’. It hit it into the trouble and made five and then on the next I hit it in the trap and made another bogey and that derailed my challenge really. But I was still where I wanted to be. I was winning the silver medal and that was the big thing for me.”
A year later, in his first season as a professional, Wood was right in the thick of the Open cut-and-thrust again and finished in third place at Turnberry. Having enjoyed such an explosive start to life in the game’s most venerated Major, the fact he hasn’t finished higher than 23rd since then may be viewed with a sense of frustration. Time remains on Woods side, though.
“It’s all about patience,” he conceded. “I know I can do it in the Open. I’ve proved that. Whatever course it is on, I fancy it. You always get good feelings going to an Open and Birkdale in particular will stir up some strong feelings. I’ll start remembering the little things and the shots I hit. I’ve got myself into position before and I have to take the chance the next time it comes along.”
Wood already has a silver medal from the Open. This week, he will be striving for golf’s ultimate silver lining.
Source : HeraldScotland