Unknown Wakefield heads Brit challengers

Saturday July 19th, 2008

Okay, hands up: who has ever heard of Simon Wakefield? Anyone? Right then, here's a "Who's Who?" for you. Or, more accurately, a "Who the Hell Is He?"

\nThe 34-year-old Englishman is nicknamed "Wakey" on the European Tour and in his 11-year professional career he has never woken up to win a tournament at the top level. And yet here he is, rubbing his eyes as he stares wide-eyed at his name near the top of the leaderboard of the British Open. By Sunday night he might be "Champion Golfer of the Year."

\n"Huh, that sounds bizarre," Wakefield said after an even par round of 70 left him in fourth place, three shots behind Greg Norman. "This is a fairytale."

\nWakefield will be hoping his fairytale has a happy ending, but admits that his nerves are jangling. "I was really nervous at breakfast this morning," he said. And that was before starting a third round two hours ahead of the leaders. On Sunday he'll be right in the mix.

\n"I might not sleep tonight," he said. "This is unfamiliar territory for me."

\nWakefield has had just one top 10 finish in a season littered with missed cuts. He is ranked 73rd in Europe and 252nd in the world. He has won twice, once on the minor league Challenge Tour (2002) and also at the more significant Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa (2005).

\n"I have been in winning positions before," Wakefield said. "But certainly not in a major championship. And this is the Open."

\nThere is sporting pedigree in Wakefield's DNA. His uncle Bob Taylor was a legendary member of the England cricket team in the 1970s. You know, cricket — it's like baseball, except they play for five days and still don't get a winner. "Uncle Bob gets a mention everywhere I go," Wakefield said, smiling. "He sends me texts of encouragement but I don't see him much."

\nWakefield only took up golf when he was 15, after watching Sandy Lyle claim the 1988 Masters title. "When Sandy knocked that putt in I went jumping around the kitchen and that was the turning point for me," he said. "I had tried golf when I was 12 but I ruined a load of my dad's new balls pitching them against the garden wall when he was out. He went ballistic when he came home. After that telling off I was more interested in climbing trees than playing golf. Dad gets plenty of new balls off me now though."

\nIn Sunday's final round Wakefield will be England's leading contender and is hoping the fan support will make the difference. "They've been magnificent," he said. "I'm sure they'll carry me round."

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