By Paul Mahoney
Friday, April 09, 2010

What happened to Michael Campbell?

Five years ago the New Zealander held off the challenge of Tiger Woods to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Today he is ranked 563rd in the world and just shot rounds 83-81 in his last year of being exempt at the Masters. The 41-year-old is 95th on the leaderboard, dead last.

Campbell's slump is just the latest in a career of peaks and troughs that has nevertheless earned him 15 victories around the world. He has failed to make a single cut all season. And Augusta National is simply not a course on which to rediscover your mojo, especially for Campbell, who has only broken par here once, a second-round 71 in 2008. This is his tenth Masters appearance and his tenth missed cut (he is 83 over par for 20 rounds).

Campbell is a decent man and is trying his best not to beat himself up as he battles an errant driver and his ever-diminishing confidence. "It's just a game of golf," Campbell said. "I don't let it get to me. I love the game. If I mist a cut, it's not a big deal. My kids and my wife are healthy. Missing cuts is just a little bump."

Brave words, but Campbell also said recently that he has contemplated walking away from the game, but he doesn't know what else he would do. "It was said in the heat of the moment-a knee-jerk reaction. I don't mean it," he says now. But he admits that he is feeling as low as he did in 1998. Back then Campbell was drinking too much and, after one too many missed cuts somewhere in Europe, he threw his clubs across a hotel room and went in search of an axe to chop them up.

"I'm not hitting the panic button yet or going to give up," he said at Augusta. "I just want to keep chugging along and see what pans out. You just have to play through it."

As has been the case throughout his career, it is the driver that is at the root of his woes. "It's my nemesis. Always has been," he said. Campbell hit just 6 of 14 fairways in round one, which led to him hitting just seven greens in regulation. He started his round with four bogeys, then triple-bogeyed the 10th and double-bogeyed the 12th. A solitary birdie at the 15th barely stopped the bleeding. In round two he hit 12 of 14 fairways but traded distance for accuracy, and reached only 6 greens in regulation.

"He's going through a tough time," said his coach, Jonathan Yarwood. "When he's hot he's hot, but when he's not, he's not. He's got a self-sabotage mechanism mentally. If we can just get his driving working 50 percent better, he'll come back. The rest of his game is as good as it was when he won the U.S. Open."

To his credit, Campbell will always stop to talk with reporters and acknowledge spectators, regardless of his score. He understands the responsibility he has as a major champion. "I am lucky enough play golf for a living and to have won a major," he said. "I have to put these bad rounds behind me and look to the future. I feel I am just one good round away from being up and running again. I am not going to fade away. I still have more in me. There is plenty of gas left in the tank."

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