- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

PINEHURST, N.C. — When the USGA offered up chaos, Cambo authored a major surprise.

Underachieving New Zealander Michael Campbell bolted from obscurity and the bottom of the leader board yesterday at Pinehurst No.2 to claim the 105th U.S. Open by two strokes over Tiger Woods.

“It’s amazing,” the 36-year-old Campbell repeated over and over, head in hands, tears flowing freely after a closing 69 on the merciless 7,214-yard, par-70 course earned him the most unlikely Open coronation in a decade.

Campbell, the No. 80 player in the world and a European Tour regular, is the first qualifier to win the event since Steve Jones captured the 1996 Open at Oakland Hills. And unlike Jones, Campbell wasn’t on anybody’s radar going into yesterday’s final round.

“All the media hype was on [Retief] Goosen winning three times and back-to-back and Jason [Gore] playing great and contending and Tiger threatening,” said Campbell, who began the day at 1 over, four behind Goosen and one back of Gore and District native Olin Browne. “I was in the shadows of the world’s great players, and that definitely made it easier.”

Frankly, there was nothing easy about Campbell’s conquest on a course setup that savaged the field in an Open finale for the second time in as many years. Just as it did last year at Shinnecock, the USGA seemed to have commissioned Satan himself to set the Sunday pins. And though the result wasn’t quite as dramatic as at Shinnecock, where fried greens conspired with the edgy setup to produce humiliation and full-field fury, the line between hard-but-fair and hardly fair was plenty blurred yesterday.

“These were some of the most difficult pins I’ve ever seen,” said Woods, who matched Campbell, Stewart Cink and Davis Love in posting the only sub-par salvos of the day but saw his rally snubbed with bogeys at Nos.16 and 17. “You have no idea how hard it was out there. You could hit good shots and get completely hosed.”

And you could hit bad ones and reel into absolute oblivion. If Campbell’s victory was a mild Slam stunner, the day’s biggest shocker was provided by Goosen. The two-time Open champion (2001 and 2004) had spent the last four years mystifying the golf world with his unflappable presence under pressure. So when Goosen stepped on the first tee with a three-stroke lead over his playing partner and an eight-stroke margin on Woods (who already had bogeyed the first two holes), the final round of the 105th Open looked like it would be a four-hour victory lap for the 36-year-old South African.

But Goosen imploded in trans-Norman fashion, playing the first six holes in 5 over en route to an 81 that ushered him out of contention shortly after he made the turn in 41 strokes.

“I just played rubbish,” Goosen said. “I couldn’t make a putt to save my life. … I obviously threw this one away, but I’ll be back next year. It was just one of those days.”

It was one of those days when the margin for error at Pinehurst was virtually nil. And while everyone was marveling at the staggering swoons of one-time contenders Goosen, Gore (84), Browne (80) and David Toms (77), Campbell and Woods clawed to the top of the board for a back-nine duel.

With birdies at Nos.4, 7, 10, 11 and 15, Woods electrified the property and scratched his way to 1 over and within two of Campbell, who was only one hole behind and admittedly aware of the rally being mounted by the nine-time major champion.

“Obviously, I was aware of what Tiger was doing, and Olin noticed I was getting a little antsy and told me a joke on the 15th tee to help calm me down,” said Campbell, who adds his first major title to six European Tour victories. “I just kept telling myself over and over again, ‘Stay focused. Stay focused. Stay focused.’”

Interestingly, Woods blinked first in the stare down. A poor chip at the 16th led to his first back-nine bogey, and a three-putt from 25 feet at the 17th gave Campbell a stress-reducing, four-stroke cushion. Tiger did birdie the 18th to close with some panache, but the die was cast with his back-to-back bogeys.

“I played well today, but I just didn’t putt well,” said Woods, whose Grand Slam hopes were crushed by a week in which he uncharacteristically finished 80th in putting among the 83 players who made the cut. “I just never really felt comfortable on the greens here all week. I couldn’t get the speed, and hence I couldn’t get the line. … But after all Michael has been through, my hat’s off to him.”

The Kiwi bogeyed the 16th after a poor drive but immediately swiped back the lost stroke by coasting home a 20-footer for birdie at the 17th. And when the player of Maori descent stepped to the 18th tee, he had a three-stroke cushion at 1 under that more than allowed for a sloppy finishing hole.

The victory marked the consummation of a marvelous career comeback for Campbell, who nearly quit the game after losing his cards on both the European and Australasian Tours in 1998.

“I was just thinking of my family back in England and all the ups and downs and rough points of my career we’ve been through together,” Campbell said of his emotional outburst on the 18th green. “It’s all been worth it — all the work and all the tears and time. … I’ve finally won a big one — a really big one.”

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