Commentary

Wakefield's 70 puts unlikely Englishman in forefront at British Open

Originally Published: July 19, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SOUTHPORT, England -- Simon Wakefield figures sleep might not come so easily, and that is to be expected. The queasy stomach he overcame Saturday morning could be in full churn Sunday as he prepares for the final round of the Open Championship.

A no-name on either side of The Pond, the Englishman managed an amazing third-round 70 on Saturday at brutal Royal Birkdale, where the windswept course had its way with the field, not allowing a single sub-par score.

That allowed anyone near par to climb the leaderboard, including Wakefield, who finished with the clubhouse lead. After 54 holes, Wakefield stood at 5-over, 3 shots back of leader Greg Norman.

"It's obviously very unfamiliar territory for me this week," said Wakefield, 34, winless in seven full seasons on the European Tour. "I'm familiar with the position, but not this position of a major championship, and certainly not the Open. I'm going to hopefully relax tonight, have a meal with some friends and not think about it."

Good luck.

Wakefield, who lost in a playoff last year at the Johnnie Walker Championship and was second earlier this year at a tournament in Austria, is playing in just his fourth Open, with his only cut made two years ago at Royal Liverpool. He has not played in any other majors.

But he managed a round that included two birdies and two bogies and was anything but as routine as the score looked. Just like the other 82 players who made the cut, Wakefield dealt with golf balls wavering on greens and wind gusts that wreaked havoc with club selection, not to mention wind burn.

"I hate the wind," Wakefield said. "I was very nervous about it."

And yet he survived to earn a shot at the Claret Jug.

[+] EnlargeSimon Wakefield
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesSimon Wakefield had three birdies, three bogies and 12 pars in his even-par round of 70 on Saturday.

Wakefield is from a town called Newcastle-under-Lyme, located in the middle of the country between Manchester and Birmingham. He was asked about his uncle, Bob Taylor -- this is a recurring theme for press room visits -- who was a star wicket keeper in England. That would be cricket.

A victory, he was told, might make him the most famous sportsman in the family.

"He's achieved a lot," Wakefield said. "I think it'll take a few more years for me to reach his standard and level."

Although Wakefield attended the 1991 and 1998 Opens at Royal Birkdale, he had never played the course until this week. He got interested in the game at age 15 in 1989, when he watched countryman Nick Faldo win the Masters in a playoff over Scott Hoch.

He did win on the Challenge Tour -- Europe's version of the Nationwide Tour -- in 2002, and added a victory in South Africa at the Dimension Data Pro-Am in 2004 shortly after regaining his European playing privileges at the qualifying tournament.

Since then, he has gotten progressively better, finishing 75th, 60th and 54th in each of the past three years on the European Tour money list.

This year, he has made just 12 cuts in 22 events. But he is just a day away from possibly being the Open champion.

"It's a long way off from my mind at the moment," Wakefield said. "There's a lot of golf to be played. It's a world-class field and I'm not even going to be thinking of that tonight. It's a fairy-tale situation, to be honest."

Yes, it is.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com