Friday, 19 March 2010

In a championship of surprises Simon Wakefield provided yet another shock at The Open on Saturday by soaring into contention on five over par at Royal Birkdale.

The Englishman, ranked at 256 in the world and without a victory from over 200 starts on The European Tour, was quietly slipping down the leaderboard after bogeys at the fourth and sixth took his score to seven over, but then the tables turned.

A birdie at the 12th got the ball rolling for Wakefield and another at the par three 14th made amends for a bogey at the 13th. A third birdie at the 17th  ensured he completed his round in level par on a day that saw the sixth, 11th and 16th holes shortened because of huge winds.

Considering the strengthening wind on the course - it has gusted at speeds of up to 50mph - it was not beyond the realms of possibility that Wakefield will lead going into the final round.

That distinction is currently held out on the course by K J Choi and Greg Norman, who are both on three over par, but the weather could yet re-write the script.

Wakefield said: "I'm just going to go tomorrow obviously in the same frame of mind as I've done today, be patient.  I appreciate that everybody else is going to be making bogeys and double bogeys.

"I might not sleep a lot tonight anyway, but it's obviously very unfamiliar territory for me this week.  You know, I've been leading going into the final round of a tournament before at the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles last year and unfortunately lost in a play-off. And then second this year in Austria, as well.
"So I'm familiar with the position, but not this position of a Major championship, certainly not The Open. But I'm just hopefully going to try and relax tonight, have a meal with friends and family and just try and get some sleep and not think about it. 

"It's difficult to do that, but I believe the weather is going to be a bit friendlier tomorrow, so the crowd will be magnificent, and I'm sure they'll carry me around."

South Korean Choi, trying to become the first Asian to win a Major title, had been one ahead after two rounds and that became three when playing partner Greg Norman bogeyed the first and third.

But Choi then stuttered himself and when he followed a double bogey six on the sixth with a bogey two holes later, he fell into a four-way tie with the 53 year old Norman, American Jim Furyk and defending Champion Harrington.

They were all two over, but still had the back nine to come. Wakefield had completed his day's work.

Harrington, suffering from a wrist injury before the start of the Championship, is himself trying to become the first European to retain the Claret Jug since James Braid in 1906.

He failed to get up and down from a bunker on the 421 yard second, but after going into deep rough two holes later, he produced a superb chip-in for a birdie three to return to two over and then added another birdie from six feet on the short seventh.

However, he three-putted the eighth and 11th, then got into even bigger trouble at the short 12th.
Finding a shocking patch of rough over the green he ran up a double bogey five and went back alongside Wakefield.
They were in third place along with Furyk, who double-bogeyed the tenth and tangled with more rough himself on the next for a bogey, and they were only one behind as Norman and Choi also double-bogeyed the tenth.

Harrington then birdied the 15th for a share of the lead, but a bogey at the next returned him to five over par.

Choi, meanwhile, had raced to three under after picking up a shot at the 13th, but he was joined by Norman, who birdied the next.


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