The celebrity and the attention will not go to Chris Wood's head. After all, his sister Abi, who is travelling in Europe, sent him a text at the weekend: "Are you at that Open thingy?" she asked. He most certainly was in that Open thing and the West Country was on high alert.
When he walked to the first tee yesterday he seemed slightly embarrassed at the heartwarming reception given to him by the huge galleries. He tentatively raised an arm to acknowledge the applause, unaccustomed as he is to public adulation. "Is that the lanky amateur?" somebody asked. It was indeed and this time they had a better view of him.
Gone was the bobble hat which had protected him from the wind and rain over the first three memorable rounds. Whereas his playing partner Ian Poulter – wearing pink trousers no less – sported a visor and sunglasses, Wood was refreshingly free of sponsors' embellishments.
When he walked off the 18th green four-and-a-half hours later, the applause was even more deafening, and with good reason. His 72 meant he finished tied fifth, at 10 over par for the championship, with the American Jim Furyk, and had he been a professional rather than an amateur he would have won about £157,000. He will not receive a penny but the experience will be invaluable.
The comparisons with Justin Rose's achievement at the Open here 10 years ago were irresistible. Rose, then an amateur with the build of a toothpick, chipped in at the last for a birdie three and finished joint fourth. Wood could not quite match that extraordinary feat. His chip in at the last for a three had come in the second rather than the fourth round.
Rose immediately turned professional and proceeded to miss 21 halfway cuts.
"I'm going to have a week off," Wood said, "and then I plan to play in the English Amateur championship at Woodall Spa." He won the Silver Medal as leading amateur here but at one point threatened to lay a hand on the silver Claret Jug as he moved to within three shots of the lead. "I didn't feel any pressure really, apart from the first tee. I tried to play one shot at a time and I was looking at the leaderboards because I was enjoying it." And his name was always up there.
"Go on Woody" yelled his supporters, and he had quite a few of them. Woody, who was born in Bristol and lives in Nailsea, has been a member at the Long Ashton club since the age of nine. By 12 he had a single-figure handicap. At 6ft 5in he was the Peter Crouch of Nailsea United juniors and went to the Bristol City academy – even though he is a Bristol Rovers fan – but a knee injury scuppered his career and at 15 he concentrated on golf. "I got a loose bone in my knee and sort of got out of bed one day and collapsed. I lost interest in football."
His father Richard, an aircraft engineer who plays off a handicap of four, has been Wood's unpaid caddie here and a fine job he made of it. Chris's mother and auntie were among the cheerleaders of a large fan club some of whom had been leaving home at 5am to get to Birkdale. It has been an exhilarating journey for all concerned.
"I only had six or seven passes so I had to give them to the people I thought deserved them most," Wood said. It was another long, demanding day on the links and at one point the long fellow from Long Ashton, who left many professionals in his slipstream after scoring 70 and 73 during the often painstaking second and third rounds, was third on the leaderboard.
Wood, who came through the qualifying process at Hillside, the adjoining links to Birkdale, was not without pedigree. He won the English Golf Union's order of merit last year when he also made his debut for his country in the home internationals. And nor, by any stretch of the imagination, can he be regarded as a little Englander. "I've been to Argentina, Mexico, Australia and Russia. The opportunities are unbelievable. As an amateur you get the experience of playing like a professional. The standard is so high."
It was a very good year for him in 2007. He won the Russian amateur title and shared the West of England strokeplay title with David Horsey, who yesterday shot 77 here to finish on 20-over-par for the championship with an aggregate of 300. Rose had a 73 yesterday and at 21-over-par for the championship was 11 strokes worse off than the latest amateur sensation.
Wood, the reigning Welsh Open strokeplay champion, took a driver off the tee of the first, the second most difficult hole on the course (that honour went to the sixth which was really a par five masquerading as a four) and Poulter went with an iron. Wood safely secured his par while Poulter took a five. Although the youngster dropped a shot at the third, he went to the turn in a hugely impressive 33, courtesy of birdies at the seventh and ninth where he hit a nine iron approach to within three feet of the flag. For Woods read Wood? Surely a 20-year-old gawky amateur, 33 years the junior of Greg Norman who is almost as old as the Claret Jug, could not produce the most sensational result in the 137th Open? It didn't, couldn't happen, but he gave it his best shot and at the end of an absorbing day he was not that far away.
Over the back nine he shot 39 – the wind was still howling, the conditions treacherous even though the course had been reduced by almost 200 yards in length – while Poulter came home in 34. "It was unfortunate having three bogeys in the middle of the back nine," Wood said. "That's not what you need to win tournaments like this but that's links golf. I felt like I dealt with it quite well."
He can say that again.Reuse content