NZers of the Year: Michael Campbell, champion golfer

By Chris Rattue

Michael Campbell was a long shot to win a set of steak knives, let alone any kind of award, as he teed off into this year's golf season.

Admired as he is, there's always been a "could do better" proviso attached to a player with such gifts and he appeared to be set for more of the same.

Yet by the year's end, he was a gimme for any sportsman of the year award.

In four magical days at Pinehurst in North Carolina the 36-year-old Campbell held off Tiger Woods to claim the US Open, becoming the second New Zealander after Sir Bob Charles to win a golf major.

Winning any PGA tournament in the United States is difficult enough and the US Open, set on notoriously tough courses, has been a hurdle too far for a few great golfers down the years.

Campbell hadn't even intended entering, only doing so because a qualifying tournament was staged in Europe.

The Wellingtonian was the only golfer to match par as he claimed an Open victory that will be long celebrated in this country.

The final day was surreal. The TV commentators seemed to regard a Woods triumph as inevitable, as did many of Campbell's countryfolk, who were glued to TV sets.

Campbell, wearing his distinctive designer shirt, never missed a beat.

He started the final day four shots behind the tough two time Open winner Retief Goosen and was hardly deemed to be in the reckoning.

But as Goosen disintegrated, Campbell matched Woods' final round 69 for a two-shot victory, pulling his cap over his eyes in disbelief seven years after contemplating quitting the game because of injury.

Campbell was also named European Golfer of the year after winning the world matchplay title in Surrey and tying for fifth in the British Open and sixth in the PGA. He finished the season ranked 15th in the world, and scooped nearly $6.3m in prize money.

Campbell wants to use the Open victory as a base to win more major titles. Yet nothing is likely to match his first major.

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