2005: International - Campbell, Bjorn show their major mettle
Now that we know London will host the 2012 Summer Olympics without golf, we can reflect on the fact that most of us would accept each season’s four majors provide golf’s Olympics.
That being agreed, we can count this year’s “medal haul” for PGA European Tour members as thus:
Masters: Luke Donald and Retief Goosen tied for third for bronze.
U.S. Open: Michael Campbell won for gold.
Open Championship: Colin Montgomerie was runner-up and earned silver, while Jose Maria Olazabal tied for third and bronze.
PGA Championship: Thomas Bjorn tied for second and silver.
Pride of place goes to Campbell closely followed by Bjorn, whose third runner-up in majors was his strongest. Bjorn’s one-shot defeat by Phil Mickelson at Baltusrol was four shots closer to the winning post than Montgomerie’s fine finish behind Tiger Woods at St. Andrews.
There are many similarities between Campbell and Bjorn. Both were born in February – Campbell in 1969, Bjorn in 1971. Both lived close to the sea on opposite continents. Each player’s best game is the match of anyone; equally, their low moments have been very low, and both have suffered from nagging injuries.
I saw Campbell lead the Open Championship brilliantly for three rounds at St. Andrews in 1995, and 14 months later saw Bjorn win his first event at Loch Lomond 80 miles or so to the west. However, it was in the ferocious heat of western Australia where I first felt that these two players could become major champions.
Bjorn won the Heineken Classic at the Vines Golf Club on the outskirts of Perth in 1998, beating Olazabal, Ernie Els and Ian Woosnam. The Vines is a long, strong course and the event was traditionally played in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Campbell won in 2000 and successfully defended his title a year later going head-to-head with the great Dane.
In that week in 2001, I felt I witnessed some of the best golf played on the European Tour since the emergence of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Co. in the late ’70s. Campbell and Bjorn were that good, but at that time not experienced enough or consistent enough to mount the thrilling challenges seen this year.
Bjorn quickly established himself as a member of the European Ryder Cup team, and I recall having been summoned by Captain Ballesteros to join him on his buggy for the final-day singles at Valderrama in 1997. Bjorn was playing Justin Leonard in an early match and quickly went 4 down after four holes.
The Captain was not amused, and seeing Bjorn approach the fifth green and having caught his eye, he shot across the fairway intent on passing on some fatherly advice. As Ballesteros returned with the buggy, I inquired, “What’s worrying Thomas?”
“Nothing” said Ballesteros, “he wants me to advise the later players the front of the fourth green has firmed up considerably since last night.”
Bjorn went on to recover those four holes, and it was the 1997 Open champion Leonard who had to win the final hole and scramble for a half-point that was not quite enough for the U.S. to regain the Cup.
Campbell’s attacking game – similar to that of Bjorn’s – is made for match play, and International captain Gary Player will have a true team player on his squad at next month’s Presidents Cup.
Campbell has achieved the goal of all athletes – gold at the U.S. Open. Bjorn has three silvers and will not rest until he joins the magnificent Kiwi with a gold.