For Campbell, Praise May Be Answered

By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, April 9, 2006

AUGUSTA, Ga.

Chad Campbell was born in Andrews, Tex. -- population 10,000. That's just a hoot from Lewisville, where he lives now. When you're comfortable hunting with small-town friends, there isn't much call for fancy dressing. When you play the bush league golf circuit for four years because they give you $5,000-an-event in appearance money as "the Tiger Woods of the Hooters Tour," life is pretty much open collar and low stress. Not at all like leading the Masters on Sunday. No, not a bit.

Campbell has lived so far off the glamour radar screen that he claims he never had a sport coat until he hit the PGA Tour. Then, people started giving them to him every time he won: the 2003 Tour Championship, the '04 Bay Hill Classic and this spring's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

"I played in the Ryder Cup, too, so you get some there," Campbell said with his moon-faced grin.

Of course, you know where this is going. With a one-shot lead and 32 holes left to play at Augusta National on Sunday, is somebody about to hand him a green jacket, too?

As Campbell played four holes on this rain-abbreviated Saturday -- going birdie-birdie, then a nerve-rattling bogey-bogey to stand 6 under par, one shot ahead of Tim Clark and Rocco Mediate -- plenty in golf think his time for a radical wardrobe upgrade has arrived. In particular, Campbell's rivals say they see green when they watch him. You'd think they were talking about a Tiger, not a Chad.

"He's one of our best -- if not the best hitter of the ball -- that we have. He's in the top three," Rocco Mediate said.

Added Vijay Singh: "Oh, he's a great player. He's won a few. He's a very good front-runner. I don't think he's scared, especially with a lead. He could be a very dangerous person."

Once selected the Tour's best new player in a poll of his peers, Campbell gets the respect usually associated with players of much larger reputation.

"He's just a tremendous player," said Phil Mickelson, who doesn't strain himself praising contemporaries. "Last year wasn't his best. He came back really hungry to play well. And he is. He's going to be really tough."

If this Masters is the week Campbell identifies himself to the millions, it would certainly square a lifelong circle. His father's hero was Jack Nicklaus, who won the Masters six times. That family fascination with the Bear led to Campbell's original interest in the game. Now, ironically, the powerful 6-foot-1, 205-pounder has grown up to look like Nicklaus as he morphed from young and dumpy-rumpled to trim and mature.


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