Michael Campbell’s pitch to the 18th green on Sunday, June 19, 2005, was 77 yards from the pin – the exact same yardage Payne Stewart had for his third into the finishing hole in 1999.
“The bells are ringing,” NBC on-course analyst Dottie Pepper said of the nearby Village Chapel chimes. “It’s pretty eerie out here.”
“Yup, same spot Payne laid it up to,” Johnny Miller added. “Payne left it 15 feet under the hole, and made that putt.”
Campbell knocked his to 3 feet.
Two putts later – we failed to mention Campbell left his pitch above the hole – one of the more unlikely U.S. Open champions put the finishing touches on a remarkable performance. Michael Campbell, the 2005 U.S. Open Champion, held off a furious charge by pre-fire hydrant Tiger Woods at Pinehurst No. 2, making birdies at 10, 13 and finally, on 17, to clinch the national championship. He finished in even par 280, two strokes better than who Campbell calls the best player “we’ve ever seen.”
“The heart of the week was holding off Tiger,” Campbell told us of winning the Open. “I had the best player in the world chasing me down.”
Casual fans outside the ropes and in the grandstands may have hoped for a different outcome at the time – and may still. It’s likely they felt Campbell had come out of nowhere. If it couldn’t have been Tiger, at least it might’ve been Retief Goosen, who seemed destined following Saturday’s third round to enjoy a coronation walk to his third U.S. Open championship.
Alas, it was Campbell, some may have thought. Never mind the Kiwi had already won six times in his career on the European Tour, contended 10 years earlier in the British Open and later in 2005 would win the HSBC World Match Play Championship, a tournament Ernie Els has won three times since 2003, and credits Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey among its champions.
But Campbell’s career has indeed slumped since ’05, despite flickers of a resurgence with two Top 10s and two other Top 25s since December on the European Tour. He blames no one but himself for allowing the accolades of being the reigning U.S. Open champion to pull him from the practice range.
“When you win a major championship, it all changes,” Campbell told New Zealand TV in October 2012. “I was so busy off the golf course, I forgot to practice. That’s what killed me. For two years I was so busy doing other things besides playing golf. And I’m best at playing golf. … It really snowballed. Now I look back and I just think, ‘Michael, you’re an idiot.’”
He’s since rekindled his desire for the game and was hard at work going through various drills at Merion. His 2005 Open win gave Campbell a 10-year exemption on the European Tour and in U.S. Open play, and while he missed the cut at Merion, Campbell is already looking forward to returning to Pinehurst.
“It changed my world (winning at Pinehurst) – for the good, of course,” he told us. “Next year, for me, personally, will be a huge week. I’m looking forward to it.”