Reuters - Mon, 12 Jul 11:06:00 2010
At only 22 years old and in just his second year on the European Tour, Briton Chris Wood already possesses a remarkable Open record.
The 1.97 metres tall Englishman, along with Swede Robert Karlsson the tallest player on tour, finished fifth as an amateur on his Open debut in 2008 to earn the coveted silver medal as top amateur.
Then last year as a rookie professional, Wood came within a whisker of making it a three-man playoff for the Claret Jug, rather than just the shootout between winner Stewart Cink and runner-up Tom Watson.
Wood had surged through the field to lead and came to Turnberry's final hole with a chance to set the golfing world agog. Subsequently, his bogey, after overshooting the green and failing to get up and down from heavy rough, relegated the willowy English youngster to a share of third place with one of his role models and management stablemates, Lee Westwood.
"I still get a huge feeling of disappointment when I think back to last year at Turnberry. I've watched replays of the final round many times," Wood said in an interview with Reuters.
"I still think 'what a great shot' when I see my nine-iron approach to the 18th green. My dad always says it is the best shot he's seen me hit in the circumstances. It was a nine-iron out of semi-rough that went a staggering 220 yards! It was just a complete flyer straight over the back of the green into long hay. A couple of yards left and it was in short grass, where I could have had a pretty decent chip at it. I had virtually no chance of getting up and down from where I was. It cost me a playoff place.
"What it did for me, though, was tell me I was capable of winning an Open championship. I'll have confidence knowing I've been on the brink already. It's only my second year on tour and I've contended in the Open.
"Obviously I'd like to go two better this time and win. There will be a whole lot of expectation after my last two years at the Open, not just from the media and my backers and friends but from myself.
"But I think it will be important not to put too much pressure on myself, just play the Old Course and not dwell on the past.
"It would be easy to go there and either daydream or put my expectations too high, say to myself 'I'm going to have a real good chance because of my past two performances'. It's such a long, tough week you need all your resources and concentration to take on the course.
"I'll have to be patient. You can be 10 shots behind after two rounds and still win an Open. Plodding along and staying patient. That's how I hope to deal with my first St Andrews Open.
"I've had some anxieties recently with my putting and I'm hoping the massive greens of the Old Course don't cause me too many problems. Because they are big and slopey you really have to put your ball in the right place on the green. Decent lag-putting can also be key. The greens are quite exposed and there are bound to be a lot of cross-winds.
"Your ball flight, inevitably keeping it low and controlled, will be what I'll be working on with my coach before the off.
"To give yourself any chance at all, though, you have to avoid the bunkers. In a bunker and it's a shot gone automatically."
Sometimes Wood has to pinch himself to believe he has had such a golden chance to win already and that great things will be expected of him at St Andrews.
"That I'm planning this all out shows how things have changed in my career. I've now also played in the Masters and the US PGA Championship, playing with all the best players in the world.
"There is, of course, a huge list of players I have to beat if I'm going to win. I think Lee Westwood will be up there. He's played consistently well for the past two years. I think he's probably the best driver of the ball on the planet.
"Obviously Tiger's got a great record around the Old Course. I'm sure he's due another major."
Just why has the inexperienced youngster been such a revelation in the last two British Opens?
"Well you could say it's because I've played a lot of amateur golf on links courses not all that long ago. I've not been a pro long. Week in week out we played thick rough and tight fairways, played target golf a lot of the time," he said.
"It's totally different to the way you play normally on tour. It's been a great advantage over players who rarely get to play links golf."