Michael Campbell demonstrated the quality and consistency which has elevated him to the forefront of world golf by becoming the first player to successfully defend the Heineken Classic title at The Vines Resort.
Campbell closed with an eight under par 64, the best round of the week and only one shot outside Padraig Harrington’s course record, for an 18 under par total of 270 and five stroke win from fellow Kiwi, David Smail, who eagled the last to claim outright second place.
Nick O’Hern of Australia maintained the Antipodean connection by finishing third, having shared the halfway lead with Denmark’s Steen Tinning and taken a two shot advantage over Campbell into the final round.
But the style and panache of Campbell finally won the day as left-hander O’Hern came to grief with a quadruple bogey eight at the sixth hole and Campbell reeled in a total of ten birdies to come within a stroke of emulating his winning margin of 12 months ago.
On that occasion Campbell, 32 later this month, shot four rounds in the sixties to triumph; this time his only ‘mistake’ was a second round 70 to set alongside scores of 69, 67 and that majestic closing 64.
Local favourite and 1999 champion Jarrod Moseley (67), Steen Tinning (70), another Kiwi, Paul Devenport (69) and first round leader, Dean Robertson (70) tied for fourth on 277, 11 under par, while another past winner, Thomas Björn was in a group tied for eighth on 280 after a final 69.
Campbell had taken time to warm up – but when he did, there was no mistaking his intentions. He birdied six of the last ten holes on Saturday to climb into second place, two behind O’Hern, his playing partner for the last day.
After the first hole in the last round, O’Hern, who lost to American Steve Stricker in the quarter-finals of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship last month, had increased his advantage to four shots with a birdie against Campbell’s bogey.
Over the remaining 17 holes, Campbell not only chipped away at that deficit but proceeded to convert it into a six shot winning margin over O’Hern, who struck trouble at the sixth. His tee shot went left, he then found a bunker, came up short of the green with his third, hit through the green with his fourth shot, finally reached the green and then three-putted.
It was a crushing blow to absorb and it was to O’Hern’s credit that he bounced back with birdies at the tenth, 12th and 15th before losing his chance of finishing second with a bogey at the penultimate hole.
Smail, meanwhile, added a layer to his growing reputation. The 30 year old from Hamilton, a professional for eight years, arrived in Perth buoyed by back-to-back wins in the New Zealand Open and Canon Challenge, conjured up a glorious eagle three at the last for a second successive 66 and a 13 under par total of 275 which edged O’Hern into third.
Campbell, two in arrears on the sixth tee, left the seventh green three ahead after his fourth birdie of the day. He picked up further strokes at the ninth, tenth, 11th, 13th, 16th and 18th to set the seal on a second Heineken Classic before the tournament departs Perth for Melbourne.
It would have been a fitting finale if Campbell’s eagle putt on the last to tie the course record of 63 had dropped, but the ball veered just off-line at the end, leaving Campbell with the simple task of tapping in and savouring the moment in the company of wife, Julie, and elder son, Thomas.
Moseley, like O’Hern a son of Western Australia, revived memories of past glories at The Vines by carding seven birdies from the seventh in a 67 to tie for fourth while Robertson, out on his own after the first round with a 65, produced a gutsy up and down at the last for a birdie four and round of 70 to become a member of the quartet in fourth spot.
Campbell commented: “My next goal is to go out there and compete against the best in the world, in the best tournaments in the world, namely the four majors. That’s my next ambition, to go head-to-head with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, David Duval and come out on top.
“I think I’ve proved to myself now from winning a few times on the European Tour that it’s time to go to the next level and contend against these guys in majors. That’s my ultimate aim, to win a major. I feel my game is shaping up well.
“I worked very hard on my putting last night, for probably an hour I was on the putting green and I found a certain key to my stroke and it worked today finally. The thing that made the difference was my putting, that’s the bottom line,” he concluded.