Another major let-down as Woods joins the also-rans

Beleaguered world No 1 finishes near the back of the USPGA Championship field as leaders try to emulate Curtis
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The Independent Online

Shaun Micheel and Chad Campbell shared the lead going into the final round of the 85th USPGA Championship at Oak Hill yesterday. Tiger Woods had wrapped up his major season long before the unlikely pairing got to the first tee. Woods was playing with a man wearing pink trousers. Such is the unpredictable nature of golf in the "Ben Curtis as Open champion" era.

Woods, whose playing partner was the colourful Australian Aaron Baddeley, was again heading for an over-par round with five bogeys after 15 holes. It would be the first time since the Open at Carnoustie in 1999 that Woods had failed to break par in any round of a major. Not until the 16th hole did Tiger manage to add to the pitiful total of four birdies he had collected in the first three rounds, which had left the world No 1 at nine over par.

For only the second time in his career as a professional - the other was 1998 - Woods has not won a major during the season and he was heading for his worst-ever finish in a major, worse even than his 29th places in the 1997 and 2001 USPGAs. "When you are as out of sync with your swing as I am it is hard to hit the ball as pinpoint as you need to on a course like this," Woods said. "This is the hardest, fairest course we've ever played."

Micheel was briefly four strokes ahead during the third round on Saturday. But first Campbell birdied three of his last four holes, including the last, and then Micheel bogeyed his last three. The pair ended tied at four under par. Campbell's 65 was the best round of the week and one stroke outside the course record held by Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange. Micheel had a 69, his third successive score under 70.

Neither player had won on the main US Tour. Campbell, a 29-year-old from Dallas, has had some success at lower levels, once winning something called the Jackaroo Steakhouse and Sauce Classic. He was runner-up in two tournaments in March and finished 15th in the Open. Sports Illustrated has featured him as a player to watch.

"I haven't felt any pressure from that," Campbell said. "It was great for me to get my name out there. Everybody loved it. There's no telling how many covers I've signed for people."

Micheel, a 34-year-old from Memphis, went to the same school as Cary Middlecoff, who won the 1956 US Open at Oak Hill. Micheel credited winning the Singapore Open in 1998 as the moment that got his career going. Since then, he has taken the advice of his father, a former FedEx pilot who got him interested in both golf and flying: "Keep it simple, stupid."

Micheel, whose wife Stephanie is expecting their first child in just over a couple of months, said: "It took me some time to get comfortable at this level, not so much with my game but playing in front of people. A few years ago, put me in this position and I would probably have shot 85. I was just so timid. I didn't like walking around the fairway. I felt embarrassed if I hit it outside the ropes."

Micheel did just that at the 13th hole on Saturday when his ball was picked up a woman spectator, Adel Campbell (no relation of Chad). He had to drop the ball on a slope, then had to place it and was left with a difficult chip. He hit it to 15 feet and then holed the putt for a par. Two holes later he hit a wonderful tee-shot at the 15th to two feet, but missing the fairway at each of the last three holes cost him three bogeys.

Mike Weir, the Masters champion, was three strokes behind at one under par after a 70. The gritty competitor from the northern side of Lake Ontario was third at the US Open and was focused on winning his second major of the season. "My feel with the putter is very good," Weir said. "The putts I make seem to be going in at the right pace. My putting feels very similar to Augusta."

He was comfortable attacking from behind the leaders and compared himself with the legendary racehorse Sea Biscuit, whose biography has recently been made into a film. "Have you seen that movie, where he gets out in front and backs up a little bit so he can stare them in the eye? For whatever reason, I seem to do better catching up from behind. That's the position I'm in again."

Ernie Els, who with two US Opens and the Open last year required a USPGA as the third leg of a career Grand Slam, was among those at one over par. "I wanted to be closer, obviously," Els said. "I feel I am playing better than where I'm at, but if everything falls into place I can shoot the 65 or 64 I need tomorrow."

Alex Cejka, the German who lives in Prague but has spent all season in the US, was also at one over, comfortably the leading European in the field.

* Marcus Fraser pipped Martin Wiegele to the Russian Open in a sudden-death play-off yesterday after both men registered final rounds of 68 for 19-under-par totals of 269 at the Moscow Country Club. The Australian secured the title at the second extra hole, the 18th, with a par four after both players had birdied the same hole first time round. In the play-off, Fraser fired his tee shot into the trees, played out and managed to get up and down from around 75 yards, holing a 12-foot putt. But Wiegele, from Austria, could not match that feat from the greenside rough. Fraser, 25, who won a play-off at the Challenge Tour's Talma Finnish Challenge just two weeks ago, secured his European Tour card for 2004 with this win.

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