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The Maori symbol on Michael Campbell's shirt means good luck and good fortune in Campbell's native tongue. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Maori symbol on Michael Campbell's shirt means good luck and good fortune in Campbell's native tongue. (Photo: Getty Images)

Campbell excited about having 'fire in his belly' again

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After Michael Campbell realized his goal of winning a major championship two years ago, he fell into a funk that had him questioning his desire to compete. But the New Zealander is back on track and in the hunt at Carnoustie.

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- There was a time, in the not too distant past, that Michael Campbell actually found it hard to get up in the morning and head to the golf course.

He'd won the 2005 U.S. Open, after all. Campbell had always wanted to win a major, and he had. What more was there for him to accomplish?

That breakout victory at Pinehurst No. 2 brought Parliament to a standstill and made Campbell as popular back home in New Zealand as his beloved All Blacks rugby team. He'd reached the pinnacle, or so he thought.

Campbell's performance on the course suffered correspondingly. He finished 31st on the European Tour Order of Merit the following year and currently stands 43rd. In his last 12 events, Campbell has not finished higher than 27th.

So when he found himself in the media center at the 136th Open Championship on Thursday, Campbell was only half-joking when he greeted the press by saying, "You're probably all surprised, aren't you?"

That round of 68 had positioned the Kiwi one stroke off the clubhouse lead held by Ireland's Paul McGinley. As he told it, Campbell had the "fire in his belly" again, and it showed with six birdies and just three bogeys on soggy, sullen Carnoustie Golf Links.

"The mistake I made was to win a major was my ultimate goal," Campbell said, discussing his descent. "And once you do that in life, what's next?

"I suppose it's like climbing up Mt. Everest. I was talking to a psychologist yesterday about that. He says he teaches back to base camp, not the top. Once you reach the top, it's halfway there. You have to reach back to the bottom to survive and not be killed. That was quite interesting to hear that sort of thing."

Campbell admitted it had been "quite a torrid last couple of years," but he has managed to stay patient. He's always felt his low ball flight would suit an Open Championship, and a change to a two-ball putter several weeks ago paid off when he holed a trio of 30-footers on Thursday.

Campbell found the inspiration he needed when he watched a DVD of former Open champions two months ago. The heroics of Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and his friend Paul Lawrie, the last winner at Carnoustie, got the Kiwi thinking about winning again.

"My mindset now is I've got to win more majors," Campbell said. "It's winning majors now for me is one thing that's set in stone as a goal, winning majors. It could be two, three, four, five or six. I'm 38 years old. I've got another good, I think another six, seven years in me.

"I look at Vijay, he performs well. Monty, as well, he's 44 years old and still winning golf tournaments. So there's still a lot of golf left in me. It was actually nice to recognize that. Took me a long time. Took me two years to recognize I need to reset my goals and to have the goal of winning majors rather than just one."

Campbell said the lowest point of the last two years came in his title defense at Winged Foot. He missed the cut by a "ton" -- actually, just three strokes -- and decided he had been changing too many things in his golf swing.

"The thing to me is less is more," Campbell explained. "I try to get too complicated with my golf swing and putting stroke. It was my fault. Human nature, I think you try to search all the time for the perfect swing or perfect putting stroke or the perfect whatever out there.

"I changed a few things on my golf swing and it didn't work. I got more frustrated, and then I changed more things with my golf swing and I was digging myself a hole. Instead of sticking to the same formula, I tried to introduce different ingredients to the whole menu and it wasn't good at all."

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Campbell said he's "rediscovered" himself by concentrating on rhythm and routine. He credits Vijay Singh with the suggestion, made during a practice round at the BMW Championship at Wentworth, England, in May.

"We had a talk and he said, 'One thing I've noticed over the last year or so, your rhythm has got quicker,'" Campbell said. "Ever since then, I've been working on my rhythm and routine, that's it, simple stuff and it really paid dividends today."

Campbell was part of perhaps the most colorful "game," as pairings are called here in Scotland, on Thursday. He wore gray slacks and a pink polo over a long-sleeved white shirt. One of his partners, Darren Clarke, dressed in pink from head-to-toe.

"Next time I'll call him tomorrow morning before we tee off, what are you wearing?" Campbell said, laughing. "When we started on the first tee it was raining and it was cold so we had waterproofs on and jumpers on, and all of a sudden a bit of sun came through and we took our tops off and thought, oops."

As is his custom, Campbell's shirt was covered with a Maori "motif." At Pinehurst, he wore a hammerhead shark, which demonstrated strength and the penchant to never give up. Thursday's motif was "mania," which means good luck and good fortune in Campbell's native tongue.

"Every design I wear is different," Campbell said. "It's kind of nice to have my culture print all over me. I think I'm a great vehicle to express my culture to the rest of the world. I'm on stage, and it's just to spread the word that certain motifs we call them means different things, and it gives me strength."

Just what Campbell needs this week at Carnoustie.

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