Golf: Mastering greens the key, says Campbell

Golf: Mastering greens the key, says Campbell

AUGUSTA, Georgia - "Oh my God. He's coming." Michael Campbell, 45, is chuckling as he rewinds his memory and describes the imprint of an old Tiger. He's talking about the point, during a tour event, when Woods' name started to fly up a leaderboard and intimidation weaseled its way into rivals' brains and this voice of panic went off like a high-decibel fire alarm.

But that old Woods will never come again and this new Woods is not coming to the Masters this week. On Augusta's course, the famed Eisenhower tree - named for the US president who found it a hindrance - has been cut down and so in a way has this other fixture called Woods.

Golf is not smiling, for Woods was not just a player, but his sports' salesman, its ticket-seller, its seducer and now the game wrestles with an altered era where 18 different men have won the US PGA Tour's last 22 events. There are many little, inspiring tales but no large, imposing figure.

Campbell comprehends the notion of a sport requiring a "leading man" and instinctively mentions "Michael Schumacher" from his past. Individual sport seizes our attention primarily when it revolves around a single face to put on a poster and a solitary name to hunt. A talent who rests at the top of an athletic totem pole and can be toppled - or rivalled - only if you lift your game.

It is Usain Bolt on the run and Rafael Nadal now with a racket, for they do what Campbell explains Woods did: "He raised everyone else." The Kiwi played often with the 14-Major winner and says: "I knew I needed to do something to compete with him. If you want to beat the guy, you have to work harder." He learnt. At the 2005 US Open, Woods chased but Campbell, seeing it as "opportunity not threat" held him off to win his only Major.

But Campbell also knows that sport is never hostage to one man. Major tournaments don't have use-by dates like champions, they live on, earthy canvases on which new histories are written by the daring. And, yes, also by the deft who can negotiate their way through Augusta's greens.

Televisions lies, suggests Campbell, it fails to reveal the "undulations" of Augusta's greens, these rising waves of manicured and deceitful earth. "The key," he explains, "to play well is the placement of your approach shots to the green. You've got to be below the hole. Every single time." Factor in speed - 14 on the stimpmeter - and the wind and the occasion and it's a "lethal weapon".

Courses fit people, designs suit golfers and the Masters didn't work for Campbell, who is in town to co-host "Fox Sports at The Masters", four one-hour studio review shows after each day's play. He tied for 3rd at the 1995 British Open and tied 6th at the 2005 US PGA Championship, but never made the cut in 10 Masters.

But the farm boy who walked barefoot to school - "to get shoes was like Christmas" - and played on courses where sheep were used instead of mowers and then turned into mobile hazards, can "never forget" his first visit in 1996 to Augusta's shores.

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