SOUTHPORT, England (July 18, 2008) -- Chris Wood, a 20-year-old amateur based at Long Ashton Golf Club Bristol, and Thomas Sherreard 19-year-old from Maidstone, showed some of the best professional golfers in the world how to master the windy links conditions at Royal Birkdale.
Wood, number six in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, balanced three birdies with three bogeys in his round of 70, with the clear highlight being his Justin Rose-style pitch in for a birdie at the last hole. The cheer he received on the last when his ball went in was only rivalled by that of the roar that greeted Greg Norman's par-saving putt at the same hole; and while Wood put the enthsiasm of his reception down to the 100 or so family, friends, and members of his golf who have come along to support, it's clear that the spectators relished the prospect of a sequel to Justin Rose's amateur heroics at the same venue in 1998.
"The first target was obviously to make the cut, and then to win the Silver Medal," said Wood, "but now I feel I could go on an do really well. I'm just trying not to get overawed by the whole Open experience." He's every reason to be confident: even such well-regarded players as Adam Scott and Anthony Kim both needed four shots more than him for their second rounds, though the Australian looks likely to be no more than four shots off the lead come Saturady morning.
Wood made the cut with ease - he currently sits tied for 22nd place - but he'll have some competition to win the Silver Medal from Tom Sherreard. Sherreard started steadily and played beautifully, with three birdies and two bogeys for a round of 69 that was among the 10 best efforts of the day. Australia's Rohan Blizard, another amateur, also looked as if he might make it, but fell away and missed out by three shots.
Speaking of Australians, the assembled members of the world's press have been inspired by Greg Norman to hit the record books to find other tales of 50+ golfers who have contended in Major championships. The results? Well, most recently Jay Haas tied for 9th in the 2004 Open, but you have to go back to 1966 to find the last half-centurion to hold the 36-hole lead in a Major: that was Sam Snead, who had the half-way lead at that year's US PGA at the ripe old age of 54.
Back on the course, none of the players could match the drama offered earlier by Norman and Villegas, but it was a good day for Swedish golfers. Alexander Noren turned in an excellent 70 for a two-over-par half-way total, and both Frederik Jacobson and Peter Hanson stand at three over after rounds of 71 and 72.
Noren, who is playing in his first Open, is thrilled to be three shots off the lead at the half-way stage.
"It's a great feeling, fantastic," he said. "I couldn't have imagined this.
"I'm trying to hit the shots that suit this course. There's a handful of shots you need to hit correctly and I've been practising those, and trying to fit them into my game."
As good as Noren's 70 was, was another Scandinavian, Denmark's Soren Hansen, who produced a one-under-par 69 to get back to four over par and put himself in a great position to contend at the weekend.