PINEHURST, N.C. – Even with the shiny silver trophy at his side, Michael Campbell had a hard time grasping how far he had come to win the U.S. Open.
The last 10 years were filled with unlimited potential and shattered confidence.
The last 10 holes Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2 were packed with pressure during an intense duel with Tiger Woods.
Campbell answered every challenge Woods threw his way, making clutch pars from the bunker to keep his cushion and a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that served as a knockout punch. With a bogey he could afford on the final hole, Campbell shot a 1-under 69 for a two-shot victory that no one saw coming.
“I worked hard for it. I deserve it. And I have it,” Campbell said. “It’s all mine.”
In a U.S. Open full of surprises, from unknown Jason Gore’s memorable run to Retief Goosen’s unforgettable collapse, the biggest of all took place on the final few holes of a punishing course.
Woods blinked first.
“I figured if I could just get to even par … if I was lucky, I might be able to get into a playoff,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I made those two bogeys on 16 and 17 and (they) kind of put me out of that equation.”
Two shots out of the lead with Campbell facing a difficult bunker shot on the hole behind, Woods chipped weakly to 8 feet on the 16th and missed the par putt. Desperate for a birdie on the 17th, Woods made sure he got his 25-foot putt to the hole, only to see it slide 6 feet by. He missed that one coming back for another bogey.
The par-3 17th was the same hole that doomed his chances at Pinehurst six years ago, and Woods knew it was over as he trudged toward the 18th tee. The roar he heard a few minutes later confirmed it.
Campbell holed a 20-footer for birdie on the 17th, giving him plenty of room for error on the final hole. He made a bogey to finish at even-par 280, the first time a U.S. Open champion failed to break par since Lee Janzen at Olympic Club in 1998.
Campbell raised his arms when the final putt fell and looked to the sky, stunned by a crowning moment in a career that looked so promising in the British Open at St. Andrews a decade ago.
The 36-year-old New Zealander tugged his cap down over his face and then dabbed at his eyes. After hugs with his caddie and playing partner Olin Browne, Campbell thrust his fist in the air and threw his ball into the crowd.
“I worked really hard for this, ups and downs from my whole career,” Campbell said. “But it’s worth the work. It’s just amazing.”
The last hug was for Woods’ caddie, Steve Williams, a fellow New Zealander. Campbell became the first Kiwi to win a major championship since Bob Charles in the 1963 British Open.
Woods stayed behind the 18th green and watched Campbell finish, gently rubbing a clenched fist over his lips as he stared back toward the 17th green, wondering how another U.S. Open at Pinehurst got away from him. There would be no 10th major on this day.
“Unfortunately, it’s frustrating,” Woods said after a 69, one of only four rounds under par on the final day. “If I putt just normal, I’m looking pretty good.”
Woods finished at 2-over 282, only the second time he has finished second in a major.
There might not have been any tense moments if not for Goosen, the two-time U.S. Open champion who turned in a collapse that ranks among the greatest in major championship history. He lost his three-shot lead in three holes and crashed in spectacular fashion, closing with an 81.
Gil Morgan was the last 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open to fade so unceremoniously, shooting 81 in the final round in 1992 at Pebble Beach.
“I messed up badly,” Goosen said. “I obviously threw this away, but I’ll be back next year. We all have bad rounds. It’s unfortunate it happened in this tournament.”
Gore, 818th in the world rankings but No. 1 to the massive crowd at Pinehurst, shot 84. Browne, who started the final round tied with Gore three shots from the lead, closed with an 80.
That set the stage for a duel between Campbell and Woods, and all along the back it looked like it could go either way.
“I was telling myself 20 times a hole (to) keep my focus, keep my focus, keep my focus,” Campbell said. “And it worked.”
Campbell hasn’t been in contention at a major since the ‘95 British Open, where he hit one of the most memorable shots out of the Road Hole bunker to save par and take the lead into the final round. He finished with a 76 at St. Andrews, missing out on the playoff by one shot.
His career has been a roller coaster since, much like the state of his emotions Sunday afternoon at Pinehurst. But he showed the poise of a champion down the stretch, even with roars for Woods ripping through the pines.
Woods, eight shots behind as he headed up the third fairway, had the look of a winner when he birdied the first two holes on the back nine to get within two shots of the lead.
Campbell answered with a 25-foot birdie on No. 12, the toughest at Pinehurst in the final round.
Woods stuffed his approach on the 203-yard 15th hole to 5 feet, and the cheer was such a jolt that Campbell backed off his shot on the adjacent 14th fairway. He hit that one to 8 feet and made par.
The tournament effectively ended on the next two holes.
Campbell earned $1.17 million for his first win in the U.S., which comes with five-year exemptions on the Tour and the other three majors.
“Hats off to him,” Woods said. “He was in the doldrums and worked his way back. Now he’s one of the best.”
Sergio Garcia (70), Tim Clark (70) and Mark Hensby (74) tied for third at 5-over 285.
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