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A Sunday for Campbell to remember, all others to forget

June 21, 2005|By TIM KOELBLE

Sunday's final round of the 105th U.S. Open golf championship should have been part of an NBC telecast of Survivor.

While Retief Goosen, Jason Gore and Olin Browne were doing a collective imitation of Larry, Curly and Moe, it was Michael Campbell who emerged as the fittest of them all.

He wouldn't even have been in the United States had it not been for the fact that the United States Golf Association, for the first time ever, conducted a sectional qualifier on European soil. He had yet to play in an American event this season.

Winning the U.S. Open because he was the only player to successfully master Pinehurst No. 2 by finishing at even-par through 72 holes, Campbell became the most famous New Zealander, knocking Steve Williams from that lofty perch.

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Williams, in case you don't know, is Tiger Woods' caddie and the most influential sports person from that small country of only four million people. And did you see Williams giving Campbell a big hug as Campbell walked off the 18th green? What a great gesture by Williams.

Ten years ago, Campbell was touted as a rising star, but like so many others, he endured injuries before he finally returned to health, with four top-15 finishes in Europe this year.

He was asked by Bob Costas in the television interview what the toughest aspect of Sunday was. "It was telling myself 20 times a hole to keep my focus, keep my focus, keep my focus," he said.

He withstood a late barrage by Tiger Woods by keeping most of his drives in the fairways and making several clutch putts, the type not often seen in the final round of a major. He made big putts on 12, 16 and 17 to keep Woods at bay on the way to a $1.17 million payday.

On the six-year anniversary of Payne Stewart's Open win at Pinehurst ? months before his untimely death ? the USGA once again proved to be in a sadistic mood.

USGA executive director Richard Fay and president Fred Ridley need to pull back on their setup of USGA tournament courses.

Did you really enjoy watching Sunday's scores balloon beyond comprehension? Granted, the pressure on the final day of a major is certainly greater than any given Sunday on Tour.

You might have expected the possibility that Goosen, Gore and Browne ? or anyone else for that matter ? could have opened the floodgates to maybe a 75, 76 or so.

But an 80 by Browne, an 81 by Goosen and an 84 by Gore? That's 35 strokes over par for the three, in one day, and Goosen and Gore were in the final twosome.

It was too bad for Gore, but hardly unexpected. It would have been nice to see him pull off a major upset, one that would have been similar to John Daly's PGA victory at Crooked Stick in 1991, when the crowds went bonkers.

As everyday hackers, we can only imagine what pressure was on these guys, not only physically but also between the ears.

Campbell handled it the best, and for that, he's New Zealand's newest, most famous Kiwi.

Tim Koelble is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at koelble@herald-mail.com

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