By Andrew Both
PINEHURST North Carolina (Reuters) - Michael Campbell will watch this year's U.S. Open half a world away, working as a TV commentator in a Singapore studio nine years after his stirring victory at Pinehurst No. 2.
An ankle injury will keep the New Zealander from "defending" his crown this week at the North Carolina course where he proved the only contender capable of going toe-to-toe with runner-up Tiger Woods in the final round in 2005.
It was a result that probably shocked many in attendance, but not those who had followed the talented Kiwi's career, including his then-caddie Mike "Sponge" Waite.
"Cambo was usually pretty good under the pump," Waite told Reuters on Monday, using the friendly moniker by which Campbell is known. "He was pretty focused the whole round, just trying to beat the golf course."
Waite recalls just one moment when the pressure of the occasion got to Campbell. That was on the 18th tee, after he had rolled in a lengthy birdie at the par-three 17th to all but ensure victory, barring a disaster at the par-four 18th.
"He said 'I'm struggling here, give me a good target.' He would have known he had a three-shot lead and I think he finally realized he was going to win but he quickly knuckled down and focused on his drive."
A tap-in bogey gave Campbell a round of 69 and a two-shot win over Woods, much to the delight of a small contingent of Kiwis in the gallery, including cricket great Martin Crowe.
As composed as Campbell remained throughout the final round, Waite says there was a period while waiting on the 15th tee that potentially could have been a problem, if not for the kindness of fellow competitor Olin Browne.
Browne was out of contention by then, no doubt extremely disappointed with his own performance, but he nonetheless engaged his playing partner in conversation.
Waite has no doubt it was a deliberate act of kindness by Browne to keep Campbell's mind from wandering.
"Olin knew what was going on and he just kept Cambo busy in conversation while we were waiting on the tee," Waite said.
Campbell, who has won 15 professional tournaments around the world, was anything but a one-tournament wonder, and he followed up his U.S. Open victory with a tie for fifth at the British Open and a tie for sixth at the PGA Championship the same year.
But he was never quite the same from 2006 and now, at 45, his best golf is no doubt behind him.
It has not always been smooth sailing off the course either, as Campbell recently revealed that he separated from wife.
Waite will always carry fond memories of working for a guy who on his day was as good as anyone in the world and, for one week at least, was the best.
"It was always hot or cold with Cambo," Waite said. "I worked for the guy for 10 years, and when his game clicked he just didn’t miss a shot."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)