"Away from the majors it is the one to win for most Europeans"
Despite the glittering CV, both amateur and professional, you still get the sense that Chris Wood is a shade underrated. You would have to go back to Justin Rose in 1998 to find an amateur who has finished higher than Wood in the Open Championship – Rose was fourth at Birkdale, while Wood was fifth at the Southport venue a decade later.
“I was just on a massive high. I qualified at Hillside 10 days before and had a good run with England in the European Team Championships. So I came to Birkdale as a lanky 20-year-old and I was suddenly playing in the Open. I didn’t feel like I had a lot to lose. My dad was caddying and I don’t know if that helped or hindered me. I’m not sure you can do that much wrong by just carrying a bag!”
Twelve months later he came even closer, this time at Turnberry where, amid all the fanfare surrounding Tom Watson’s heroics, had Wood birdied the 72nd hole he would have won the Claret Jug.
The Bristolian, now a pro, suffered the same fate as Watson as he watched a 9-iron fly straight at the pin from over 200 yards and finish through the green. Like Watson, he made bogey and came up one short.
So Wood arrived at Wentworth last year with two wins in the bag, an 80-1 chance with the bookies and a fourth place the previous year.
He then produced a magical front nine of 29 on Sunday to overtake the more fancied likes of Lee Westwood and the recently crowned Masters champion Danny Willett to land the biggest victory of his career. Wood and Willett, born just a few weeks apart, were off to the Ryder Cup.
The PGA is the flagship event of the European Tour which makes it quite a hectic week for the players. How do you pace yourself?
It seems like every man and his dog turns up for that week. The range is a really busy place and you can end up doing a lot more things than normal. Everything adds up and you end up not getting much practice done. I like to get there early, get away early and get things done before the tournament. Being organised is the key. It’s not a big range so it’s easy to see who is on there and, if someone wants to find you, they will do. On the other side it really is the start to the season in Europe and everyone has a right to be there. It is just up to us to manage our time properly for what is a massive tournament.
Do you ever consider practising at the less hectic local courses like Queenwood or Sunningdale?
You have got to be very special to get on at Queenwood, it is pretty exclusive there! I’ve played Sunningdale a few times but, by the time you have planned all that, it is just easier to get to Wentworth and the facilities there are amazing.
Did you grow up watching the PGA?
I would go with my dad. My first memory was bizarrely watching Lee Slattery play the 18th. He was right on the cut line, knocked it on in two and three putted to miss the cut by one. You walk those fairways and dream of just hitting a shot off them so to win it was incredible. Away from the majors that is the one to win for most Europeans.
What did you make of the changes they made to the course?
I think they want too far with it, though it needed tweaking. Before, if you played the last two par 5s in level par you would be losing ground on the field. Now a 5-5 finish would gain you half a shot. Last year in the final round I was 20 yards off the 17th green after two shots and made six and I didn’t hit a bad shot. I think they have reined it back in to what it was and, by all accounts, it is now a happy medium which will only go down well with the players.
What holes did the players particularly moan about?
The 8th was pretty bad. It was raised something like 20 feet with a really narrow entrance and, if you were in the right-hand bunker, you couldn’t keep it on the green. The 14th green had got a bit stupid and 16 and 17 were two of the worst on the course. With everyone hitting it so far these days they tried to put some defences in but, in places, it got a bit silly.
How good was that outward 29 on Sunday?
I didn’t miss a shot so it is right up there. It was one of those spells where every yardage was a perfect 6 or 8-iron and I didn’t have to do a lot. Usually the pins are quite tucked away on the Sundays but I could just go at the flags and that makes it quite a bit easier if you’re not taking six yards off a 6-iron. You could just go full out, straight at it. Then low scores become a possibility.
What are the toughest shots you then have to get through?
There are three: the drives at 13, 15 and 17. I hit them all absolutely perfect and played those holes in one over which maybe showed that the greens were a bit tricked. All three are such demanding tee shots.
And you didn’t look at a leaderboard all day?
Not on the last day, no.
But they’re massive?
You see them, you just don’t take the scores in or look really closely at them. To really find out the situation you need to have a long look at it.
So you are pretty reliant on your caddie then?
Yes, I don’t know if that’s wise or not! You are trying to post the best score anyway and knowing I am two shots ahead changes the way I feel on the course and the way I approach things mentally. I’d rather just play my 18 holes instead of protecting things for nine holes and I can rely on my caddie, Punk, to let me know what we need to do. If we need two birdies to finish I can then play those holes aggressively and for me that is very different.
Last year you could have taken on the green at the 18th but hit wedge-wedge. Do you not second-guess what he’s telling you?
You have a feeling roughly where you are plus there are TV cameras, the crowds get bigger and you generally know what a winning score will be.
How did the Awkward Reporter come about and was there anything good that wasn’t broadcast?
The European Tour are doing some great things behind the scenes and they approached me the week before. Afterwards every player came up and said they would love to be involved in it. There was a good one with Poulter which didn’t make the cut.
Everyone knows what he’s like, he’s a great guy but he’s media hungry. The interviewer was ready to speak to him and asked him how his day was going and he had his hand to his ear like his director was talking to him and he then says ‘Actually sorry, we don’t need you’ and walks off.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 3, 2017
At the Masters you played with Charley Hoffman, how good was that 65 on the first day which gave him a four shot lead?
It was incredible. We were sort of quite close after both making birdie at the 12th. He went for the green at 13 and hit it in the water but holed a 20-footer for par. That was the turning point, after that he just went mad and, in those winds, to play the back nine in 31 was just ridiculous. We played with him the week before in Houston and we said he could do well in an Open, he’s got the right ball flight and then the first two days at Augusta it blew like an Open. So, while it wasn’t a big surprise to see him shoot 65, it was such a good round. He’s a very impressive player.