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Campbell suffering from major trouble

Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2004

HAVEN, Wis. Chad Campbell has a score to settle at the PGA Championship.

A year ago, the no-nonsense Texan contended down the stretch at Oak Hill only to finish two shots behind when Shaun Micheel made a 25-foot birdie on the 16th and then nearly holed out his 7-iron on the 18th to clinch the title.

No matter. Everyone knew Campbell was ready to take off, just by watching his raw talent or listening to the pure sound of the ball coming off his irons. He shot 61 and won the Tour Championship to close out the year, then blew past the field at the Bay Hill Invitational to win by six shots and move into the top 10 in the world.

And then it was time for the majors.

''You only have four majors a year, so it's nice being able to test us those times,'' Campbell said.

Trouble is, Campbell has flunked all three tests this year.

He shot 76-77 at the Masters and never came close to making the cut. What really stung was the U.S. Open, where he was in the middle of the pack until taking double bogey on his last two holes to miss the cut by one shot.

''I don't think I've ever been more upset after a round of golf than that day,'' Campbell said.

At Royal Troon, he took a double bogey on the par-5 fourth, rallied with two birdies at the turn, but dropped a shot on the par-3 17th that he figured would give him an early starting time on Saturday. Instead, the wind died, scoring went down and Campbell missed another cut in the major by a single shot.

''No excuses,'' Campbell said. ''I just didn't play well.''

He arrived at Whistling Straits with few complaints about his season. Campbell is 15th on the money list with over $2.1 million, and he is No. 13 in the world rankings. Best of all, the 30-year-old is seventh in the Ryder Cup standings and virtually a lock to make his first team.

But while the PGA Championship is where he had his first close call in a major, this is where Campbell is desperate to prove that the first three majors this year were a fluke.

''I was definitely anxious to get here,'' Campbell said. ''I'm excited about getting to the PGA and looking forward to having a good major for a change.''

Campbell is not so spooked that he is changing his routine coming into the majors. He returned from a two-week break and tied for 19th at the International, flew to Milwaukee and played nine holes Monday morning.

It was his first look at Whistling Straits, and it didn't take Campbell long to realize he had his work cut out for him. On the 493-yard fourth hole, he blistered four drives (in pursuit of a driver), all of them starting out low and strong into the wind, and gently drawing toward the middle of the fairway. He still had a 2-iron left to the green.

The wind can be such a factor along the shores of Lake Michigan that Campbell had only a 7-iron into the green on the 507-yard eighth hole, one of three par 4s that measure 500 yards or longer.

''Should be a good test,'' Campbell said.

That's putting it mildly. Lee Westwood of England arrived early and played a practice round Sunday, and all that did was confirm all the hype and hysteria he had heard about Pete Dye's latest creation.

At 7,514 yards, this is the longest course in major championship history. The previous record was Columbine Country Club in Colorado, which was 7,436 yards although that was in mile-high air.

And get this: the PGA of America isn't even using all the length available at Whistling Straits.

''I've been told that there were 10 really difficult holes, and eight impossible ones,'' Westwood said. ''I'm just trying to sort out which the 10 difficult holes here.''

Who does it favor?

''Probably a long, straight hitter with a good iron game and a great short game and a wonderful putter,'' he said.

There was a time that used to define Tiger Woods, although he only has a couple of those categories working in his favor at any one time, and that has kept him from dominating the game like he once did.

Woods comes into the PGA Championship having been shut out of the last nine majors, and in jeopardy of losing his No. 1 ranking to Ernie Els (possible) or Vijay Singh (long shot).

Phil Mickelson, whose 1-2-3 run through the majors started with his breakthrough victory at the Masters, played three days last week to learn the nuances of Whistling Straits and to figure out where he can't afford to miss.

That's no small task. Trouble lurks everywhere on the course, although most of the 1,400 bunkers are more of an eyesore than a legitimate threat. That water hazard east of the course Lake Michigan makes for a stunning view, but it makes some of the greens look like they're about to topple into the water.

It reminds several players of an Irish links, and who better than Darren Clarke to weigh in on that.

''If you try and remember all of the most difficult holes of all the courses at home, put them all together and I think you'll have this one here,'' Clarke said.

Indeed, it is shaping up as a strong test.

For Campbell, there is no better place to show that his game can stand up to it. He still draws on the positive vibes from last year at Oak Hill, where he was one of only three players to finish under par.

''It gave me confidence coming into this year,'' Campbell said. ''Although it has not done me much good so far. I know it will in the future.''



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