Campbell holds nerve to claim the biggest prize

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The Independent Online

For a start, his 2 and 1 triumph over Ireland's Paul McGinley gave the US Open trophy he captured in June some credence that should never have been needed for such an obvious talent. Secondly, there was the little matter of the European Order Of Merit that he now heads after leapfrogging his semi-final victim, Retief Goosen. But more than any of this there was the simple joy of seeing his name up alongside such past winners as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and, of course, Ernie Els.

"That's the biggest thrill of all," said Brighton's most up-and-coming resident, who started the season with five missed cuts but who now has hold of £1m, the richest first prize in golf. "To join that lot is almost hard to take in. It may not be a major, but to me it sure feels like it."

For McGinley it felt only like the most major disappointment in his career, this being his second runners-up finish in as many tournaments on the West Course he loves so much. After his storming triumph over his PGA Championship victor, Angel Cabrera, on Saturday, the Dubliner had declared he was not interested in coming second and even £400,000 could not cushion the misery. "It hurts like you can't imagine," he said, looking as choked as his game. "When I look back at the Ryder Cup points I won then maybe there'll be some consolation. But at the moment there is none."

Sad really, because this was always going to be the day of the greens, but not necessarily the scarf-clad Blarney Army who lent proceedings a distinctly Ryder Cup feel as they roared their man on to what would have been his first title in four years. Those greens bearing the flags played up with far greater effect.

If only their cups had been as big as those of the streaker who ran across the 11th green in the afternoon then the competitors would not have had such a torrid time. And neither would the spectators, for that matter. Top-drawer golf this was not. In fact, this was right down there with the most threadbare of socks.

The monumental, and quite frankly daft, leap in prize-money from first to second unarguably played a large part in making the atmosphere so cagey and the swings so twitchy. The difference was £600,000 and, boy, did it show. If the morning was bad enough, as both did a valiant job of ensuring that par was indeed the norm, then if anything the afternoon was actually worse.

At least Campbell threatened the hole as the dew dried, but the three putts under eight feet he yanked in the first seven holes meant McGinley was still all square through nine. The straight-face did oblige on the 10th from 20 feet and a sumptuous chip to the cup's edge on the last ensured that the 36-year-old was one-up and the one munching his lunch most eagerly.

By the third hole of the second 18, Campbell was three up and swaggering after an 18-footer on the first and his opponent's ugly double-bogey on the third. How strange then to see it turn into a stagger as the tempo took flight in a horrid run of seven holes from the fifth that yielded three bogeys. It said something of McGinley's form, and the standard of the match as a whole, that he could stand on the 12th tee on level terms. The big names that have been so blatantly absent here would have doubtless applied the golf spikes to a jugular that would have been beyond repair.

Campbell, however, was still alive and all he had to do was ride the huge slice of luck he received on that par four - when his approach flew the green and was a foot from being out of bounds - to chip up for a birdie and play the next six holes in one under to steal the Match Play crown. How? Simple. McGinley played like a drain, the 16th being a case of muck in point. After his rival had found the bunker off the tee, McGinley responded to this chink of light to find the darkest reaches of the trees on the left. Two down with two to play and when Campbell pitched to a foot on the par-five 17th it was shake hands time for the winner and shake heads time for the loser. "The 12th was crucial," McGinley said. "A massive break for him that I'll never forget."

Still, there was plenty else for him to remember and not just that bare-chested figure who momentarily enlivened the afternoon in the most ungolflike fashion. Yes, this tournament has had its detractors but after yesterday Campbell will never be one of them.

* Seve Ballesteros will return to competitive action at next month's Madrid Open. He has been out since November 2003 suffering from an arthritic back.