New Zealand’s Michael Campbell continued his recent revival to lead at the halfway stage of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
After winning the 2005 US Open Champion at Pinehurst, Campbell subsequently made just four cuts in two years as he slid outside the top 1,000 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Still only 910th four months ago, the 43 year old is now up to 339th thanks largely to his third-place finish at the recent Portugal Masters.
A joint best of the week round of 64, finished in style with an eight foot birdie putt at the last, took Campbell to nine under par at a blustery Hong Kong Golf Club and one ahead of two-time winner Miguel Angel Jiménez and China’s Zhang Lian-wei – aged 48 and 47 respectively – and 40 year old Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed on a leaderboard packed with veterans.
Campbell’s best European Tour round for six years came when he went to the turn in 30, made it four birdies in a row on the tenth hole and added a final gain at the last.
“Today was a day where I played great from tee-to-green and holed a few nice putts for pars and birdies,” he said.
“I’m just happy to be in a position to have a chance for the weekend; that’s why we play the game, that’s why I didn’t give up.
“That’s why I just stuck at it, just stuck working hard on my game, and I knew that this would happen – I deserve it, really.
“It’s been a gradual build-up over the last three or four months, a few top 15s. Portugal was a great boost to my confidence, and it shows this week.
“You can’t buy confidence, you just have to earn it, and I think I’ve earned it over the last seven years since I haven’t won a golf tournament. I have been patient.”
Campbell admits the resurgence of similar-aged players such as Open Champion Ernie Els, Dane Thomas Björn and Ryder Cup star Paul Lawrie has helped him to believe a return to the upper echelons of the game was possible.
“There have been times where I wanted to throw it in,” he added.
“But what’s really inspired me over the last four or five years is seeing my friends around the same age bracket as me, in the 40-plus club. The likes of Ernie winning his fourth Major, Thomas Björn winning three times last year, Paul Lawrie has had a wonderful last couple of years, and Jim Furyk winning the FedEx Cup last year. The list goes on, so 40 isn’t a bad age to be playing golf.
“Seeing my friends win tournaments left, right and centre definitely inspired me to not give up and keep on playing.
“At one particular time, I remember I was back in Sydney back home with my family and I said to myself, okay, tonight is where I decide whether I’m going to give up the game or keep on playing, keep on practicing.
“I went to bed that night and I woke up in the morning, and there something inside me said to me: ‘look, keep on going, you've still got the talent’. It doesn't go away, the talent, it's always with you. It never goes away; it just hides now and then. I decided to just keep on working hard and that was it really.”
The leading four players all came from the afternoon session after strong morning winds had died down.
Dane Anders Hansen did the best of those playing in the tougher conditions, with the 42 year old matching Campbell’s 64 to take fifth place on seven under par.
World Number One and newly-crowned Race to Dubai Champion Rory McIlroy four-putted the last to miss the cut, leading Campbell to joke: “That makes it a lot easier for the rest of the field!”
Overnight leader Javi Colomo shot a one over 71 to drop back into a tie for sixth, while in the battle for 2013 European Tour cards Richard Bland and Rhys Davies – currently occupying the last two spots on The Race to Dubai that carry exemptions at 118th and 119th – made the cut with nothing to spare.
South African Tjaart Van Der Walt, lying 117th at the start of the week, now looks to be the man to catch, while former winners Bradley Dredge, Christian Nilsson, Matthew Zions and Kenneth Ferrie, as well as 2008 Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson all look set for a gruelling trip to Qualifying School next week after missing the cut while outside the top 119.