Ten years after almost winning The Open Championship and just 13 days after holing a six foot putt at Walton Heath to qualify for the 105th US Open Championship, Michael Campbell’s completed the ultimate journey by capturing America’s national Open at Pinehurst No.2 in North Carolina.
The 36 year old became only the second New Zealander to win a Major Championship, following in the illustrious footsteps of the great Bob Charles, who won The Open in 1963. In doing so Campbell, succeeded in his 29th start in a Major, becomes only the tenth non-American to lift the US Open title.
On a dramatic final day, which had seemed all teed up for defending champion Retief Goosen to capture back to back titles, Campbell beat the demons which had haunted him since St Andrews in 1995 and also a rampaging Tiger Woods to lift the crown.
A closing round of 69 saw Campbell just fail to match the winning total of the late Payne Stewart at the same venue in 1999, a one under par 279. The Kiwi was the only man in the field to match the par of 280 at the end of a wonderful week, in which reigning Masters Champion Woods emerged as his greatest threat.
Although Woods also shot 69 with a birdie at the last, the World Number One was betrayed by bogeys at the 16th and 17th when in full cry and, instead, it was left to Campbell to show a steady nerve by rolling in a 20 footer for a two at the 17th to confirm his new status at US Open Champion by a two stroke margin.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia played superbly from tee to green but could not hole a putt and his 70 took him into a share of third place along with Tim Clark of South Africa (70) and Australian Mark Hensby (74).
It was a remarkable journey’s end for Campbell. In 1995 he led The Open by two strokes from Costantino Rocco but, at the age of 26, failed to stay the course and eventually finished tied third behind John Daly after a closing 76.
In a corner of Surrey 13 days ago, over the New Course at Walton Heath, Campbell stood over a six footer for a birdie three, guessing that it might be enough to secure one of the nine qualifying places to guarantee access to Pinehurst. He was correct – but he could never in his wildest dreams have imagined the denouement to the story.
On Saturday night, a holed bunker shot at the 17th gave him the impetus he needed, even although he finished at one over par, four strokes behind the regal Goosen, who crown seemed secure on his cool head. In the final round, a positive birdie putt at the first started his off on the road to victory.
Incredibly, Goosen and his partner, Jason Gore, in the final group, took 165 shots between them – Goosen carding an 11 over par 81 and the American and 84 to play little part in proceedings. The South African was undone with a double bogey six at the second and never recovered.
Meanwhile Campbell stayed calm and reached the turn in a level par 35, but it soon developed into a two horse race between Campbell and Woods, the Champion in 2000 and 2002. And when the latter birdied the tenth and 11th, there was only one shot between the protagonists.
That was the signal for the Kiwi to come into his own. A huge birdie putt at the tenth was followed by another at the 12th, while he pulled off some fine saves at the 11th, 13th and 14th. Woods made a brilliant two at the 15th up ahead, but then faltered with that pair of bogeys as he forced himself to find another birdie.
In the end, Campbell played the 18th safely, chipping on in three and taking two putts from five feet to win before covering his face with his cap as the tears streamed down his face.
The emotional Champion said: “I was just thinking of my family – my wife Julie and my two boys back in England – and my family in New Zealand. A happy Father’s Day for my dad! I’ve worked hard for this and had a lot of up and downs, but it was worth it.
“It’s amazing – just completely changed my whole career. This is what I’ve practised for and I can’t believe I am holing this trophy. I knew if I could shoot two or three under I would have a chance of winning and things went my way. Nobody took notice of this little kid from New Zealand until the last nine holes. There I was telling myself 20 times a hole to keep my focus – and it worked.”
Sweden's Peter Hedblom finished with distinction, shooting a 75 in the company of Woods for a share of 11th alongside Goosen on 288. Vijay singh of Fiji was tied sixth and South African Ernie Els tied 15th.