If the European Tour is seeking an extraordinary tale to mark its return to a full format, the hope must be that Michael Campbell sustains early promise at the British Masters.
It has been perfectly easy to forget that Campbell, now 51, saw off Tiger Woods to win the US Open of 2005. A decade earlier, the New Zealander held the 54-hole lead at the British Open. More recent tales of Campbell's demise have not been at all exaggerated, including by the man himself. He has not made a European Tour cut in seven years, with a long-term injury to his left foot triggering fears he might have to give up the sport he was once so prominent in. Campbell lies outside the world's top 2,000 ranked golfers.
At Close House on Wednesday a sterile, spectator-free environment made no difference whatsoever to Campbell. A three-under-par 68 planted his name on the leaderboards once again. Onlookers would be forgiven a double take in checking this was the same M Campbell who once jousted with – and defeated – the best.
“I didn’t expect that,” Campbell admitted. “I started practising two weeks ago, hit a few balls and played a bit with some mates who I’m staying with down in Marbella. I hadn’t played in eight months, since October last year. So I’m really surprised to shoot three under.
“My expectations were pretty much none, I wanted to get out here and enjoy myself. It’s weird with no crowds, no clapping. I think I made six birdies today and nothing there. It’s kind of weird, it’s like playing with your mates – more intense, but it’s the first time for me not playing in front of a crowd. It’s very different indeed.
“I’ve had a good career the last 20 years, winning 15 times around the world, that’s good enough for me. If I have another one this week it’s a bonus.”
Campbell estimated it had been at least a decade since he carded a sub-70 round on the European Tour. The appearance of his 21-year-old son, Thomas, as Campbell’s caddie seemed to act as an inspiration.
“It’s like having 15 clubs in the bag,” Campbell said. “The thing is, unfortunately when I had my success from 1999 to 2005 he was so young, he can’t remember. For me it’s having fun with my boy, bonding with him. He gave playing up a long time ago, he was a good player but didn’t like the attention.”
Campbell’s hope is to play senior golf in the United States but, strangely for a Major winner, he has found opportunities incredibly hard to come by. He stopped short of criticising the Champions Tour’s qualification format but this appears an unsatisfactory scenario. “I asked for 15 invites last year and got one,” he said.
A brilliant burst of scoring vaulted Scotland's David Law to the top of the leaderboard as the European Tour enjoyed a successful, if somewhat surreal, return to action at the British Masters.
Law began his first round at Close House with five straight pars but then birdied the next five holes in a row, produced a brilliant up and down from thick rough to save par on the 11th and birdied the 12th and 13th as well.
The resulting seven-under-par 64 left the 29-year-old from Aberdeen a shot ahead of Oliver Fisher, Garrick Porteous and Renato Paratore, with 2018 winner Eddie Pepperell among those two shots further back.
Bangor golfer Jonathan Caldwell birdied the closing two holes to move into the top 10 as he carded a four-under 67 to lie three off the lead.
Paul Dunne, a former champion at the event in 2017, carded a level-par 71 thanks to birdies on the 16th and 17th, but Cormac Sharvin and Gavin Moynihan have their work cut out to make the cut after they both shots 73. – Guardian
British and Irish unless stated, par 71
64 David Law
65 Garrick Porteous, Renato Paratore (Ita), Oliver Fisher
66 Pedro Figueiredo (Por), Rasmus Hojgaard (Den), Aaron Cockerill (Can), Lee Slattery
67 Ryan Fox (Nzl), Jack Singh Brar, Ashley Chesters, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Ben Stow, Calum Hill, Eddie Pepperell, Sean Crocker (USA), Jonathan Caldwell
68 Sihwan Kim (Kor), Jens Fahrbring (Swe), Matthew Jordan, Michael Campbell (Nzl), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Rhys Enoch, Adrien Saddier (Fra), Joel Sjoholm (Swe), Andy Sullivan, Dale Whitnell, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp)
69 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Justin Harding (Rsa), Adrian Meronk (Pol), Aaron Rai, Lars Van Meijel (Ned), Robin Roussel (Fra), Robert Rock, Scott Hend (Aus), Johannes Veerman (USA), Louis De Jager (Rsa), Richard Bland, Richie Ramsay, Clement Sordet (Fra), Toby Tree, Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Jake McLeod (Aus), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Jamie Donaldson, Jordan Smith, Scott Vincent (Zim)
70 Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Ross Fisher, Benjamin Poke (Den), Grant Forrest, Scott Jamieson, Jason Scrivener (Aus), Joachim B Hansen (Den), Wil Besseling (Ned), Laurie Canter, Maverick Antcliff (Aus), Jeff Winther (Den), Thomas Detry (Bel), Gregory Havret (Fra), Lee Westwood, Adri Arnaus (Esp), Niklas Lemke (Swe), Richard McEvoy, David Horsey, Matthew Southgate, Romain Langasque (Fra), James Morrison, Sam Horsfield, Andrew Willey, Dave Coupland, Alexander Levy (Fra)
71 Marcus Armitage, Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Brandon Stone (Rsa), Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Carlos Pigem (Esp), Paul Lawrie, Paul Dunne, Justin Walters (Rsa), Jack Senior, Nacho Elvira (Esp)
72 Steven Brown, Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Kalle Samooja (Fin), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Chris Paisley, Graeme Storm, Antoine Rozner (Fra), Bryce Easton (Rsa), Connor Syme, Calum Fyfe, Nicolai Hojgaard (Den), Edoardo Molinari (Ita)
73 Ben Evans, Cormac Sharvin, Lorenzo Scalise (Ita), Callum Shinkwin, Julien Guerrier (Fra), Francesco Laporta (Ita), Daan Huizing (Ned), Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Gavin Moynihan, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Julian Suri (USA), Darius Van Driel (Ned), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Eduardo De La Riva (Esp), Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Min Woo Lee (Aus)
74 Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), David Howell, Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez (Esp), Bailey Gill, Oliver Farr
75 Jason Levermore, Oliver Wilson, Sami Valimaki (Fin), Ricardo Santos (Por), Michael Bullen
76 Robin Sciot-Siegrist (Fra), Ewan Ferguson
77 Alejandro Canizares (Esp)
78 David Drysdale, Marc Warren