Augusta, Ga. | In the days and weeks to come, Chad Campbell’s missed putt will be scrutinized as the shot that cost him his chance at immortality. And that’s true. The 5-footer that he lipped out on the first sudden-death hole eliminated him from the three-man playoff. But the shot that likely will replay in Campbell’s mind will be the 7-iron from the middle of the 18th fairway that he deposited into the right greenside bunker.
Acknowledged as one of the best ballstrikers in the game, Campbell didn’t come close. This after hitting the 18th fairway with his tee shot for the first time all week, leaving himself what he called “a perfect 7-iron.” In other words, he was in the driver’s seat.
“I guess I was a little bit worried about turning it over and just kind of held on to it,” Campbell explained.
He has finished in second place in a major once before, at the 2003 PGA Championship. That time, Shaun Micheel hit a 7-iron from the rough on the 72nd hole to inches to seal an improbable victory. It is considered one of the game’s great clutch shots.
That day Campbell got beaten by a better golfer, but this time defeat felt self-inflicted. That’s why this one will hurt more.
“I’m probably a little more disappointed this time,” he said. “I kind of blew it myself. I hit bad shots.”
What will keep Campbell up at night is knowing that before he missed what under normal circumstances would’ve been a routine shot, Angel Cabrera’s second shot ricocheted off a tree and sat more than 100 yards from the hole and Kenny Perry had hung his approach right of the green. Campbell had never owned a sport coat until he made it to the PGA Tour, and yet Cabrera and Perry were gift-wrapping a green jacket for him. Campbell was surprised even to have a chance. He thought he would finish one shot back until Perry bogeyed the final two holes.
After his fateful 7-iron, Campbell nearly holed his third shot from the bunker. He remembered witnessing playing partner Tim Clark make a similar shot in the final round of the 2006 Masters. But after Cabrera and Perry both salvaged par, Campbell pushed his putt.
“It was a left-edge putt, and I just kind of left the blade open,” Campbell said.
Campbell is no stranger to pressure situations. He is so highly regarded by his peers that Paul Azinger chose him as a captain’s choice for last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. Campbell has played on the past three U.S. teams, and he talked at the 2008 matches about thriving under pressure.
“The nerves and the pressure,” Campbell said, “that’s the feeling that we all play for.” Even last week, he said he fed on it.
Campbell still can hold his head high. He began the tournament with a Masters-record five consecutive birdies. The Augusta faithful cheered his effort to break the course record of 63.
“It entered my mind,” he said.
A pair of late bogeys cost him, and a double bogey at the par-3 16th hole in the third round prevented him from playing in the final group Sunday. He entered the last round two shots back and shot 69 to finish in a three-way tie at 12-under 276.
“He’s going to be fine,’’ said older brother Mike Campbell, the golf coach at Abilene Christian University in Texas. “He’s going to take a lot of positives from this because he played so well. He hung tough all day. He did everything but win.’’
That said, a player known for his precise iron play had an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow and failed.
“I’ll beat myself up pretty good for a while,” Campbell conceded.
He’ll get over it, he’ll learn from it and someday he might win here. But he’ll remember that 7-iron. Only from now on, it won’t be Micheel’s gem; it will be his own blemished swing.