A year ago Chris Wood was performing at the Open solely for glory. He finished fifth and turned professional. This week the 21-year-old from Bristol put in a repeat performance and very nearly took away the Claret Jug.
At Birkdale last year Wood was living the amateur dream but now, if not exactly a hardened professional, he proved again he could contend for the Open. He was the co-leader early in his back nine and but for a bogey at the last might have set a target that would have proved difficult to beat. Of course, he was not the only player to drop a stroke at the 18th and it meant that both Wood and his more experienced compatriot Lee Westwood missed out on the play-off caused by Tom Watson's own bogey.
Do not be fooled that contenders for the Open Championship are getting older whatever the heroics of Greg Norman last year and Watson here. They are also getting younger. For Old Tom, as Watson, read Young Matteo. On Thursday Matteo Manassero, at 16, became the youngest competitor in the Open since Young Tom Morris a century and a half ago.
Yesterday, the Italian became the youngest ever winner of the silver medal as the leading amateur since it was introduced 60 years ago. Manassero, who played with Watson for the first two days, finished joint 13th and is a name worth watching.
His predecessor as leading amateur, Wood, had another important fifth place late last year when he earned his card at the qualifying school for the European Tour. His rookie season has had its ups and downs but back on familiar links territory he made a superb run at the title. An eagle at the seventh was the highlight of the front nine and it was at the 12th that Wood found himself tied for the lead as those ahead fell back.
"My caddie wouldn't let me look at the leaderboards and although I sneaked a couple of looks I didn't see when my name was at the top," Wood said. Last year he got within three of the lead before falling back and here he dropped shots at the 13th and 14th holes. But a two at the 15th and a four at the 17th got him back to two under before he bogeyed the 18th. His approach sailed over the green and he took three to get down.
"I have never in my life hit a nine-iron more than 210 yards," Wood said. "It must have been the adrenaline. I fancied the chip but it was not to be.
"Last year helped me a lot but I think it is a better performance as a professional to return and back up the performance as an amateur last year. I felt I controlled my nerves well. But I'm only 21 and I've contended in two majors. The experiences I've had in the Open already are really amazing. I was playing with Justin Rose so it was ironic given he also made his name in the Open."
After not having earned a penny last year, Wood took home a handsome cheque for £255,000. "I've just bought a flat so it is going to come in very handy," he said. He is again assured of returning to the Open next year – his goal at the start of the day was to get into the top 10 – while he also boosted his chances of earning many riches in the Race to Dubai, the European Tour's end-of-season bonus scheme.
None of that concerns Manassero, who last month won the British Amateur title at Formby. "I have played good for the last few weeks and I am very happy about this experience," he said. "To win the silver medal is very special."
The Milan fan from Verona is intending to finish his schooling in three years' time before turning professional. Due to his Amateur victory, he will play in the Masters next April.
Helped by his coach and caddie Alberto Binaghi, the former tour player, Manassero never looked out of place this week, even when playing with Watson and Sergio Garcia over the first two days. "I have a low trajectory so it is good for this type of course," he said. "My game from tee-to-green was very good."
However, Manassero was modest about how his fortunes will rank back home. "Football is always bigger than every other sport," he said. "If I can be just a little bit like one of the football stars that would be great."