The last time Michael Campbell was in a similar position, he was a 26-year-old European Tour rookie leading the 1995 British Open on Sunday and, by his own admission, without any idea how to win a major championship. He shot 76 that day and finished tied for third at St. Andrews, but 10 years and many lessons learned later, he played the round of his life Sunday -- a 69 for an even-par total of 280 -- to hold off hard-charging Tiger Woods by two shots and become the first New Zealander to win a U.S. Open championship.
Almost as stunning as Campbell's performance was the stupefying collapse of defending Open champion Retief Goosen. The South African, a two-time Open champion with a steely demeanor, held a three-shot lead at the start of play but melted down early and then often on the diabolical greens of Pinehurst No. 2 and finished with a final round of 81 -- 288 and a tie for 11th place.
A year ago, in virtually unplayable conditions at Shinnecock Hills, Goosen had 11 one-putt greens and 24 total putts in the final round. A year later, he needed 36 putts and had only eight pars on his card Sunday, with a double bogey and nine bogeys, including a run of five consecutive bogeys early on the back nine.
There were other big-time flameouts as well. Washingtonian Olin Browne, who played with Campbell and was tied for second place after 54 holes, finished with a round of 80 -- 290 and fell to a tie for 23rd place. Jason Gore, the journeyman crowd favorite also tied for second entering the last 18 holes, was even worse, skying to an 84 -- 294 and tie for 49th.
"I played rubbish," Goosen said afterward. "If I'd at least made a couple of putts, I'd have felt better. . . . I was trying all the way. . . . It was just one of those days. . . . But this is nothing serious. Nobody has died. I had a great Father's Day this morning with my kids. I'm just very disappointed with the way things turned out."
Campbell obviously was ecstatic. He had almost given up the game in 1998 after a wrist injury and some dreadful play eventually caused him to lose his status on several worldwide tours. He eventually reconstructed his game, but he had to be convinced by his agents to enter the first U.S. Open qualifying tournament ever held in Europe, two weeks ago at the Wentworth Club in England. He said he "barely scraped through" to earn a spot in the field at Pinehurst, a golf course he said reminded him of many he had played both in Australia and Europe.
"The last time New Zealand won a [major] championship was in 1963" when left-hander Bob Charles won the British Open at Royal Lytham, Campbell said. "Now I've done it myself. Incredible."
Campbell had missed the cut the last four times he had played in a U.S. Open, but he said he felt comfortable on Pinehurst No. 2 from the first time he played it last Monday. He was only one of two players in the field with two sub-par rounds this week; Goosen was the other. Campbell's even-par total of 280 was the highest winning Open score since Lee Janzen won the 1998 Open at Olympic in San Francisco, also at even-par over 72 holes.
Woods began this Father's Day six shots off Goosen's lead but fell short in his attempt to win his second major title of the season and 10th overall when he missed an eight-foot putt for par at the 492-yard 16th hole, then three-putted from 18 feet at the 190-yard 17th, the easiest green on the golf course. He came back with a birdie on the 18th, but when Campbell made his 18-foot birdie putt at the 17th, he was able to take a three-shot lead to the 18th tee.
"Sinking the birdie putt at 17 was the turning point," Campbell said. "I told my caddie I had to keep my focus. I remembered Jean van de Velde [blowing the '99 British Open at the 18th hole at Carnoustie]. I said it to myself 30 times, 'Keep your focus.' "
When Campbell made a three-foot putt for bogey at the 18th, he pulled his golf cap down over his face to cover tears of joy. He was hugged by Browne, his playing partner, and as he walked off the green to the scoring area, Campbell also was embraced by Steve Williams, Woods's caddie and a New Zealand native.
"He said, 'You made a lot of people back home very, very proud,' " Campbell said. "I got emotional, again, lost it completely."
Campbell, now ranked No. 80 in the world, is a Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, and a former rugby player who was introduced to golf at age 10 by his father. He plays full-time on the European Tour, where he has six career victories since 2000. He played on the international team at the 2000 Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and even performed a Maori war dance called the Haka on the driving range during a practice round that did not especially endear him to several American players.
On Sunday, he began beautifully, making a 10-foot birdie putt on the first hole, and with Goosen backing up almost immediately with a double bogey at the 469-yard No. 2 and bogeys on Nos. 3, 5 and 6, Campbell pushed to a one-shot lead that turned into a three-shot advantage over Woods when he made the turn to the back nine.
Woods never was able to get closer than within two shots, despite making birdies at the 10th and 11th holes. Campbell knocked in a 30-foot birdie putt at the 607-yard 10th hole to keep Woods from making up ground, then added another birdie with a 22-footer at the 12th.
Woods's major problem all week was gauging the speed of the Pinehurst greens. Though he led the field in driving distance and greens in regulation, he was tied for 80th in putting statistics for the tournament.
"I'm pleased with the way I played; I'm not pleased with the way I putted," Woods said. "I didn't feel comfortable with my putter all week. It was frustrating because I could never get the speed right. If you can't get the speed right, you can't get the line right. I struggled with my speed all week. . . . I was just trying to get back to even par and hoped it might be good enough. But you look at that course and then look at the scores, it doesn't take much. You can hit good shots and absolutely get hosed.
"I've watched the telecast and television does not even come close to doing justice to the slopes and where they put those pins. . . . It's so difficult to explain to people how difficult this golf course was playing. I was joking all week that, 'Thank God I wore spikes, because if you backed off some of these holes, you'd slip down the hill.' "