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M. Campbell sneaks in

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Michael Campbell could sense what was happening yesterday at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in the final round of the 105th U.S. Open. He didn't have to look at the leader boards; all he had to do was hear the distant roars and feel the sun-baked fairways shaking.

Tiger Woods was coming, and coming on strong.

Maybe it was Campbell's heritage that dates to the fierce Maori tribesmen in his native New Zealand. Maybe it was his own mettle that allowed him to forget the three-stroke lead he lost in the final round of the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews.

For whatever reason, Campbell barely flinched on a day when the No. 2 course left many of the world's best golfers flummoxed. With a number of crucial birdie putts and a couple of big saves for par, Campbell overtook defending champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and held off Woods to win.

With a round of 1-under-par 69 -- tying three others, including Woods, for the best score of the day -- and a four-round total of even-par 280, Campbell beat Woods by two strokes to win the first major championship of a career that was nearly ended by a serious wrist injury seven years ago.

Campbell played the way many past Open champions have in the final round, not spectacularly but solidly enough. He had four birdies, three bogeys and 11 pars, including six straight beginning on the par-4 second hole that allowed him to tie for and eventually take the lead.

"I was sneaking in there," said Campbell, who started the round trailing Goosen by four strokes. "There was little old me, hanging just in between some great players, the world's best players. And I snuck in there, and without anybody noticing, really, I won."

Campbell, the first New Zealander to win a major since Bob Charles took the British Open in 1963, nearly collapsed in the arms of his caddie after tapping in his final putt for bogey. He was also hugged by countryman Steve Williams, who caddies for Woods.

The victory was worth $1.17 million -- nearly twice what the late Payne Stewart received after winning the Open here in 1999 -- and helped end a long and sometimes tortuous journey Campbell began when he shot a final-round 76 on the Old Course a decade ago to finish one stroke out of a playoff won by John Daly.

It also came after Campbell missed the cut in the Open the previous four years.

"I can remember watching this tournament six years ago in my home in England and when Payne won, it was very emotional," Campbell, 36, said after accepting the silver loving cup and gold medal for his victory. "For me to stand here and accept the same trophy, I'm very, very honored."

In finishing second in a major for only the second time in his career, Woods saw his chance at a third U.S. Open title and 10th major championship elude him.

Woods believed he lost this tournament on the greens, and statistics support him. Despite finishing first in driving distance (325.9 yards) and greens in regulation (75 percent), Woods was tied for next-to-last in putts per round (32). Only Vijay Singh, now the world's No. 2 player behind Woods, was worse.

"I just could not get the speed right," Woods said. "And if you can't get the speed right, you can't get the line right."

As surprising as it was for Campbell to win, it was nearly as shocking to watch Goosen fall apart. Looking to win his second straight Open and third in five years, Goosen played the front nine in 6-over and finished with an 11-over 81.

"It's been a bad day," said Goosen, who made nine bogeys and a double bogey to fall to a tie for 11th. "Unfortunately those things happen. It happened to Ernie [Els] last year [shooting 80 in the final round of the Open at Shinnecock Hills], and unfortunately this year was my turn."

Goosen, who entered the day with a three-stroke lead, was not the only player with a chance to win who imploded. PGA Tour journeyman Olin Browne and Nationwide Tour player Jason Gore, who came into the day tied for second at even par, shot 80 and 84, respectively.

"Stuff like that happens at the U.S. Open, and I'll be a better player for it," said Gore, 31, who dropped to a tie for 49th.

Playing with Browne in the next-to-last pairing of the day, Campbell could see the problems the 46-year-old veteran was having and also heard the groans coming from the gallery with Goosen and Gore. But more importantly, he could hear what was going on ahead of him, particularly two groups ahead of him.

That was where Woods was making his charge. After starting with bogeys on each of the first two holes to fall to 5-over and eight strokes behind Goosen, Woods showed why he is again the world's No. 1 player. Still 4-over at the turn, Woods made three birdies in the next six holes.

"I thought I needed to get to even par," said Woods, who punctuated his final birdie in that stretch, on the par-3 15th, with his trademark fist pump. "I needed to birdie the last two holes and hopefully get into a playoff."

It didn't happen. Woods drove into the deep rough on the par-4 16th and bogeyed, then three-putted the par-3 17th for bogey. A few minutes later, Campbell made a 20-footer for birdie on the same hole. With Woods making birdie at the par-4 18th, Campbell had a three-shot cushion going into the last hole.

"Sinking that birdie on 17 was a turning point, but I said to my caddie, 'Just keep me focused,'" Campbell said.

Despite hitting his tee shot into the left rough, and chunking out his next shot no more than 70 yards, Campbell did stay focused. He stuck his approach 6 feet from the cup. Though he missed the putt that would have given him the day's best score, he tapped in to take home one of the game's most coveted trophies.

As he raised his putter and then dropped it onto the green, as he covered his eyes with the bill of his cap, the tears flowed. They didn't stop when he spoke to the crowd by the green, or when he hugged Williams, a longtime friend whom he kidded later about finally passing in career earnings.

The silver loving cup never left his side, long into the night.

"It's unbelievable, that's all I can say," Campbell said. "I worked hard for it, I deserved it. And I have it. It's all mine."

Leader board

The winner ...

Michael Campbell 71-69-71-69-280

... and selected followers

Tiger Woods 70-71-72-69-282

Sergio Garcia 71-69-75-70-285

Tim Clark 76-69-70-70-285

Mark Hensby 71-68-72-74-285

Vijay Singh 70-70-74-72-286

Retief Goosen 68-70-69-81-288

Jason Gore 71-67-72-84-294

Complete scores, 8D

Michael Campbell

at a glance

Age: 36

Home: Wellington, New Zealand

Previous victory: 2003 Nissan Irish Open (he has six wins on the PGA European Tour, three on the Australasian PGA Tour)

Career earnings: $2,494,752 (yesterday's check makes up 46.9 percent)

Source: PGA Tour

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