Wakefield puts wind up rivals to make name for himself
Journeyman's chance of incredible first victory on grandest stage
Sunday 20 July 2008
The wind of change blasted through the leaderboard and while the likes of Justin Rose and Lee Westwood went south, Simon Wakefield woke this morning (provided he managed to sleep) to find himself in the heat of the battle for the 137th Open Championship.
Wakefield's 70 – merely par for the course, but worth its weight in gold – in the third round yesterday blew him into serious contention in what is only his fourth appearance in an Open.
He missed the cut at Royal St George's in 2003, again at Troon the following year and was joint 48th at Hoylake two years ago. Hardly the form of a major contender, but here he appears to have a safe pair of hands.
The 34-year-old, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, is the nephew of the former England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor. He took up golf at 15 and slashed his handicap from 26 to 12 in his first season. By the age of 17 he was playing off scratch. This, though, is an entirely different ball game.
"It's a fairytale," said Wakefield, who had never before played Birkdale. "I might not sleep a lot tonight. It's very unfamiliar territory for me."
Wakefield, who has not won in eight years on the European Tour, made his move over the back nine while almost all around him were losing ground.
After going to the turn in 36, two over for the day, he came home with three birdies, carding two twos, at the 12th and 14th and in the context of the scoring they were priceless. He outscored his playing partner Sergio Garcia by four strokes, a truly astonishing state of affairs. The answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind.
At five over par for the championship he is so high on the leaderboard – in fourth place, only three strokes behind Greg Norman – he will probably need an oxygen mask.
Ian Poulter, who began the day at three over after rounds of 72 and 71, struggled to a 75 – "I've got 18 holes of good golf left in me", he said – and what wouldn't he have given for Ross Fisher's 71. "I'm over the moon," said Fisher who, at seven over, is very much in the hunt. "It was ridiculously tough out there but I'm thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. The crowd is absolutely crazy and the reception all the way round the course was tremendous."
Tremendous is also the word for the 73 of the 20-year-old amateur Chris Wood. It may be stretching incredulity to breaking point – okay, he can't beat Norman, can he? – but at eight over the Bristolian, who is making his Open debut, is not out of it. "I love it," Wood said. "I won't get to keep a penny of the prizemoney, but that's why you put all the hours in, to be in situations like this. I battled all the way round."
Paul Casey, one of the great home hopes, would have had one of the rounds of the day, if not the championship, but for losing his ball on the 15th. However, Royal Birkdale is so well connected you have to mind your heirs and graces even when you're waist-high in the rough. When Casey began his search he bumped into Prince Andrew, as you do.
"The Duke of York told me that he'd hit a ball in there the other day," Casey said. "I said 'did you find it sir?'" HRH replied that he did not. If they can't find a ball by Royal appointment, what hope for the common golfer?
It's just a shame that the Prince and his loyal subject didn't manage to find each other's balls. In the event they exchanged hard luck stories. The upshot of Casey's misadventure was a double bogey seven on a hole where he was looking for a birdie.
He began his round, before 8am, with a double bogey six at the first where he hit his tee shot out of bounds. After that he hit 15 greens in regulation and he regarded his 73 as a "great round of golf". "I'm 12 over par for the championship and I can't believe I'm being interviewed," Casey said. "That makes you realise how difficult it is out there. The wind is causing the balls to move on the greens." It wasn't the only place they were moving.
Simon Khan, who holed from 60 feet for a birdie at the 16th in a round of 71, said: "I thought at the start of the week that four 72s would be good. I'm 10 over so I'm happy. If you have a good round you can move right up."
Which is what makes the final round today even more intriguing than usual.
Who is Simon Wakefield?
Born: 14 April 1974, Newcastle. He is nephew of former England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor.
Height: 6ft 2in.
Turned pro: 1997.
World ranking: 253; 69th in 2008 European Order of Merit.
Plays on: European Tour but has yet to win professional title despite five top-five finishes and two runners-up berths.
Prize money: $1.7m (£850,000).
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