Campbell keeps Tiger at bay

It was always going to need something pretty special to knock the All Blacks out of the headlines in New Zealand this week - but Michael Campbell has done it.

It was always going to need something pretty special to knock the All Blacks out of the headlines in New Zealand this week - but Michael Campbell has done it.

The 36-year-old Maori was in tears and could not stop saying "unbelievable" and "amazing" last night after holding off Tiger Woods to win the US Open at Pinehurst.

Brighton-based Campbell's first Major victory was also New Zealand's first since left-hander Bob Charles won the 1963 Open at Royal Lytham.

Four years ago the former schoolboy scrum-half was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to golf in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Goodness knows what will be planned for him now.

Yet Campbell very nearly was not in the event.

Having fallen to 80th in the world he was not exempt and only because the United States Golf Association decided to stage a qualifier in Europe for the first time did he enter.

His caddie and management company then had to persuade him to go through with the 36-hole tournament at Walton Heath in Surrey two weeks ago and only with a last-hole birdie did he get into a five-way tie for fifth which squeezed him in with nothing to spare.

It was hard to believe then that he would soon be holding one of the four most prized trophies in the sport.

But on a day of drama, defending champion Retief Goosen, three clear overnight, collapsed to an 81, second-placed pair Jason Gore and Olin Browne scored 84 and 80 and they all opened the door for Campbell and Woods to battle it out.

Both shot joint best-of-the-day 69s on the fearsomely difficult lay-out, giving Campbell the title by two with a level par total of 280. Sergio Garcia was joint third with South African Tim Clark and Australian Mark Hensby three strokes further back.

"My little puppy," was how Campbell described the trophy as he cradled it in his arms and looked forward to bringing it back to England to show his wife and two young sons.

He planned to pull out of this week's French Open in Paris to celebrate and come back down to earth and will return to action at next week's European Open in Dublin.

The victory also saves him the need to try to qualify for the coming Open at St Andrews - the course where he led by three with a round to play 10 years ago and finished one shot away from the play-off in which John Daly beat Costantino Rocca.

In between he nearly gave up because of injury and a loss of form so bad he lost his European and Australasian tour cards.

Then, after fighting his way up to 15th in the world, he took his family and nanny to America, but went into another slump, not helped by them all living out of a suitcase, and quit the USA Tour mid-season with his game in tatters.

Now he is exempt for every Major for the next five years and for the US Open for the next 10. Incredible indeed - he is the man to have thwarted Woods' Grand Slam bid.

"Ben Hogan was my hero growing up and his name is on here four times," he said, looking at the cherished trophy again. "Phew, Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus. Oh, man - this is unbelievable.

"All the way round I was thinking of how proud my family and all the people in New Zealand would be of me if I won. For the last nine holes I was telling myself 20 times on every hole 'keep your focus, keep your focus.'

"I've worked very, very hard for this and had ups and down my whole career, but it's worth the work. I can't believe I'm holding this - it's completely changed my life."

On the 15th, playing partner Olin Browne told him a joke because he could sense the tension growing in the face of the Kiwi, whose great-great-great-grandfather Sir Logan Campbell emigrated from Edinburgh in 1845 and became Mayor of Auckland.

"I can't remember what it was, but it really relaxed me," he added. "I went to the toilet about fives times during the round - I was very nervous."

A birdie at the first and six pars was enough to take him from four behind to two in front with Goosen, Gore and Browne crumbling, but then he began to hear the roars for Woods.

The Masters champion birdied the 10th, 11th and 15th, but Campbell sank 30-footers at the 10th and 12th and was given a cushion when Woods, two months from bogeying the 17th and 18th at the Masters to fall into a play-off, bogeyed the 16th and 17th.

Campbell also dropped a shot at the 16th, but an 18-footer at the next - a 190-yard hole where he had three birdies and a par during the week - meant that even with Woods' birdie at the last he could take a double bogey and still win.

Remembering Jean Van de Velde's closing triple bogey at Carnoustie six years ago, though, he limited himself to a bogey.

Woods, first and second in the first two majors of the season, will as a result be a red-hot favourite for St Andrews, where he won by eight in 2000.

"I thought if I got to level par I might have had a chance," said the world number one. "They were some of the most difficult pins I've ever seen, but I never felt comfortable with my putter all week.

"My quality of shots have gotten better since Augusta, though, and that's exciting. I've taken some giant strides and for all the people that have slammed me for making the changes, now you understand why I did it."

And with that Woods left the stage to Campbell, £645,410 richer now with the promise of much more to come. Charles earned £1,500 for his Open triumph.

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