Campbell cuts through wind


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- A freshening wind, the sort the Scots would call a "proper wind," blew hard out of the north across the Old Course yesterday, and a fresh face rode it right into the lead of the British Open.

Michael Campbell, 26, a native of New Zealand who is playing in just his second Open, shot a stunning round of 65 -- lowest of the championship and by three strokes the lowest round of the cold, blustery day -- and charged to the top of a leader board dominated by a golf version of the United Nations.

Nine countries are represented in the first 15 spots at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Campbell's total of 9-under-par 207 is two strokes better than Italy's Costantino Rocca, three better than Australia's Steve Elkington and four strokes better than a foursome that includes Japan's Katsuyoshi Tomori, South Africa's Ernie Els and Corey Pavin and John Daly of the United States.

In championship golf, Sundays are for reality and Saturdays are for dreaming, and this was as unreal a stroll as anyone has ever taken across the Old Course.

Just how good was Campbell's bogey-free round? Consider what the 30-mph winds did to the 14 twosomes that teed off after he did: Their combined scoring total was 59 over par.

"It's hard for me to grasp what this means," Campbell said. "Ever since I was 12 years old, I watched this event on TV and think about how I wouldn't mind playing next to these guys. Now, here I am, leading the British Open. It has a nice ring to it."

It has a new ring to it, but Campbell is no stranger to the leader boards across Europe. He has held the lead at some point in the last three tournaments he's played -- the Irish Open, the Scottish Open and now the British Open.

He finished tied for 12th in Ireland and tied for 18th at the Scottish last week.

He is statistically the best putter on the European Tour, but has only been to the United States once, for two weeks last year.

He tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and failed and then his agents at International Management Group arranged for him to play in a Tommy Armour Tour event in St. Louis, which he won. Overall, he has six victories, all of them in minor events.

"He has a lot of game," said Nick Price, the defending British Open champion who is almost out of it, seven strokes behind after a 70 left him at 2-under-par 214. "He reminds me a little bit of Ernie Els, in some ways, in that a lot of us knew about him but not too many other people did before he won the U.S. Open."

Campbel wouldn't be the first Kiwi to win the British Open -- Bob Charles won in 1963 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But Campbell would certainly be the first member of New Zealand's Maori tribe, the indigenous people of that country, to win a major championship.

The forecast for today is for high winds and some rain, true British Open weather on the truest of all links courses.

The tournament could come down to the Road Hole, the monstrous 17th, which has yielded just 10 birdies and has led to ruin for many. Yesterday's victims were Tomori and Elkington, both of whom bogeyed it, and Daly, who double-bogeyed it.

It may yet mean victory or defeat for Campbell. So far he has played it in par-bogey-par, and yesterday's par was the scene of his finest moment in a round that included many.

The bunker shot he hit there will certainly be added to the hole's lore, perhaps as an example of the best -- and most fortuitous -- shot ever hit under Open pressure.

Campbell's drive on the hole found the right rough, and his 9-iron second shot flew into the cavernous depths of the Road Hole bunker. There are worse spots to be, but not many, and Campbell was in the worst of all.

His ball was no more than 14 inches from the base of the bunker, and to get out he would have to blast his ball nearly straight up in the air over the 6-foot wall.

To get an idea of how difficult that is, try placing a golf ball a foot from a phone booth, wedging it over the top and stopping it short of the curb. The pin was 15 feet from the edge of the bunker and when his shot hit high on the wall, popped over the lip and rolled down to 18 inches from the hole, it was almost a miracle shot.

"Somebody up there was looking after me," he said. "It was really unbelievable. I was very fortunate there."

And he was very good the rest of the round. He birdied four holes on the front, three straight on the back and posted the lowest of just five rounds in the 60s.


The leader . . .

Michael Campbell .. .. .. ..71-71-65-207

. . . and selected followers

Costantino Rocca .. .. .. ..69-70-70-209

Steve Elkington .. .. .. ...72-69-69-210

John Daly .. .. .. .. .. ...67-71-73-211

Corey Pavin .. .. .. .. .. .69-70-72-211

Ernie Els .. .. .. .. .. ...71-68-72-211

Katsuyoshi Tomori .. .. .. .70-68-73-211


Card of leader Michael Campbell for the third round of the British Open:

Par out .. .. .. ..444..454..434 -- 36

Campbell out .. ...443..444..333 -- 32

Par in .. .. .. ...434..454..444 -- 72

Campbell in .. .. .433..344..444 -- 65

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