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Chad Campbell moving onto the big stage

American Chad Campbell has been regarded as a class act by his peers since he won eight of the first 16 events on the 2000 U.S. Hooters Tour, the breeding ground for the main PGA Tour.

It has taken longer for the wider public to acknowledge his rich talent, but that should change following his six-shot victory at the Bay Hill Invitational on Sunday.

The 29-year-old Texan, who played the first two rounds with tournament host Arnold Palmer, reeled in overnight leader Stuart Appleby with a blemish-free six-under-par 66 on the last day.

Almost Palmer-like in style, Campbell charged from four shots behind Appleby with 11 holes to play, the quality of his golf applying relentless pressure on his partner.

"I really didn't have anything to lose," said Campbell, who gave himself birdie putts on every hole. "I was just trying to hit at every pin. My ball-striking was good enough that I could do that."

Appleby surrendered his lead on the 11th after finding bunkers with his first two shots, but felt he had not so much lost the title as had it wrenched from his grasp by Campbell.

"He played great. He just outplayed me, no two ways about it," the Australian said. "I can't even think of a poor shot he hit in two days. Great golf."

Tiger Woods, who failed in his bid for a fifth consecutive victory at Bay Hill after closing scores of 74 and 73, is 18 months younger than Campbell and has known him since their college days.

"Chad is very quiet," the world number one told reporters. "He goes about his business quietly.

"People don't realise that he's won at every level. He won in college, won on the Hooters Tour, won on the Nationwide Tour and now he's out here and he won the Tour Championship."

Campbell's three-shot victory at the season-ending Tour Championship in November, his breakthrough win on the PGA Tour, was set up by a brilliant 10-under-par third-round 61.

He is known for his attacking style, as well as his ability to hit fairways and greens, finishing fourth in greens in regulation for 2003 while his scoring average of 69.68 was ninth best.

If anything has held him back, it has been his putting, but Sports Illustrated magazine came up with Campbell's name last year after polling PGA Tour players for their pick as the most likely major winner.

"Chad can flat-out play," said Woods. "He's got kind of a flatter swing. He draws the ball. It's just a beautiful draw and sometimes he can really hit it hot, too, just hot tumblers out there. He's a wonderful ball-striker.

Campbell has won twice in his last 10 starts, with top-10 finishes in his last three, and having been runner-up to Shaun Micheel at last year's U.S. PGA Championship, he feels more comfortable in the majors.

"I definitely think I can compete," he said. "I kind of showed that at PGA. I came up a little bit short there but I'm definitely looking forward to getting to Augusta (for next month's U.S. Masters).

"I feel like I'm playing a lot better than I was last year at that time. I think I've earned a lot of respect from my peers."

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