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Michael Campbell has new expectations

With his confidence sky-high after holding off world number one Tiger Woods to win this month's U.S. Open, New Zealand's Michael Campbell has lofty expectations for the major championships to come.

The 36-year-old, who clinched his maiden grand slam title by two shots at Pinehurst's No.2 course in North Carolina 10 days ago, knows he has the game and mental strength to triumph against any opponent once he gets into contention.

"I think the last nine holes (at Pinehurst) gave me a true test, either make-or-break for me to be honest," Campbell told a news conference on Wednesday as he prepared for this week's European Open at the K Club in County Kildare.

"If I'd had a three-shot lead playing the last nine holes and lost the tournament, I would have been devastated and probably not recovered for a long time.

"But to actually go out there and have the best player on the planet shooting all guns blazing at you and I responded with birdies.

"That was probably the toughest situation that I've ever been in. Tiger is right behind you, making all these birdies in a major championship, and I won."

Campbell fired a closing one-under-par 69 in difficult, breezy conditions at Pinehurst to become only the second New Zealander, after left-hander Bob Charles at the 1963 British Open, to win a major title.

"I know this is going to stand me in good stead for my future career because I know that I can cope with any situation in the golfing world now," added Campbell.

"I know if I'm leading once again in a major championship with nine holes to play, with a three-shot lead and with Tiger or Vijay (Singh) or Ernie (Els) breathing down my neck, or Goosy (Retief Goosen), I can still win.

"It's a huge stepping-stone."

Campbell will be bidding this week to follow in the footsteps of South African Goosen, who clinched last year's European Open in his first appearance after winning the U.S. Open -- at Shinnecock Hills.

However Campbell, European Open champion in 2002, faces a strong field at the K Club with the likes of Goosen, Padraig Harrington, who won last week's Barclays Classic on the PGA Tour, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood among the contenders.

United States Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman and his European counterpart Ian Woosnam, who qualified successfully for the British Open on Monday, are also in the field.

Much of the focus, though, will be on the new U.S. Open champion.

"I'm looking forward to playing again and coming back to a tournament I've won before is a great combination," said Campbell.

"My confidence has skyrocketed."

Campbell added that his final-day collapse at the British Masters last month, when he surrendered a three-shot lead after 54 holes, had provided an important lesson for him going into the U.S. Open.

Although his Pinehurst victory earned him five-year exemptions for the PGA Tour and the other three majors, he does not plan to focus his playing schedule in the U.S. for the moment.

"I have no intentions of going to America for at least the next three years," said Campbell, who spent the early part of 2003 there without success before returning to play full-time in Europe. "I'm more comfortable here.

"I hope this sends a message to all of the European Tour players that you can win major championships by not playing in America."

 

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