Campbell makes first win a runaway

HOUSTON -- The PGA Tour Player of the Year race is still up
in the air.

Chad Campbell made sure the Tour Championship was no contest.

Campbell blew away his challengers with a flawless front nine to
build a five-shot lead, then cruised to his first victory in the
PGA Tour's version of the All-Star game.

''I think you get a little bit more respect once you get your
first win, especially coming at a tournament like this,'' Campbell
said after closing with a 3-under 68 for a three-shot victory over
Charles Howell III.

Campbell, whose 16-under 268 broke the tournament scoring record
in relation to par, became the first player to make the Tour
Championship his first victory.

Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh couldn't settle the PGA Tour Player
of the Year race at Champions Golf Club, so now they hit the
campaign trail.

The PGA Tour Player of the Year is a vote of their peers, and
both can make a strong argument. Singh won the money title, ending
Woods' four-year run; Woods won his fifth consecutive Vardon Trophy
for lowest scoring average and led the tour with five victories.

''Hopefully, I can get voted for Player of the Year,'' Singh
said after a 68 left him in a tie for fifth. ''But if I don't, in
my mind, I've done what I wanted to do. We'll see what happens
after this.''

Woods closed with a 74 and was 26th, his worst finish ever in
the Tour Championship.

He still won the points-based PGA of America Player of the Year
award and the Varon Trophy for the fifth straight time and said he
would be surprised if doesn't get voted top player by his peers.

''Number of wins,'' Woods said when asked to state his case.
''Two World Golf Championships in there, with my stroke average
(68.41) being as low as it is. And on top of that, never missing a

Woods unceremoniously broke one of the oldest records on tour by
making his 114th consecutive cut -- even though the Tour
Championship had no cut.

Byron Nelson finished in the money in 113 consecutive events
from 1941 to 1948.

Woods needed a victory for a record fifth straight money title.
But his putter failed him throughout the week. His score of 1-over
285 was the first time since The Players Championship in 1999 that
he finished a non-major over par.

Masters champion Mike Weir and Davis Love III also are
considered candidates for Player of the Year.

The ballots will go out Monday.

Singh has momentum on his side, ending his year with two
victories, two second-place finishes and his tie for fifth at the
Tour Championship.

''He's played very consistently, so you've got to look at that
strongly,'' Ernie Els said. ''Then you look at Tiger. He has five
wins out of 18 events. That's pretty strong. So at the moment, I'm
on the fence.''

One thing on which everyone agrees is that Campbell, a
29-year-old who honed his game and his grit in West Texas, should
be a factor for years to come.

He bolted into the lead Saturday with a Tour Championship-record
61, then backed that up in the final round by not giving anyone a
chance. Campbell was 15 under par over 27 holes, starting with the
third round and culminating with his eagle on No. 9.

''That's great golf,'' Howell said after a brief search for a
better word. ''In a good way, he's a very boring golfer -- fairways,
greens, hit his putt up there, it either goes in or it's right next
to the hole. Which is great.''

Howell had a 70, ending at seven his consecutive rounds in the
60s at the Tour Championship. A year ago, he shot in the 60s all
four days at East Lake and finished second to Singh.

''I just didn't play good enough today,'' he said.

Retief Goosen had a 69 and was at 12-under 272, while Chris
Riley -- Campbell's roommate at UNLV -- had a 70 to finish fourth.

''He's dominated every level he's played,'' Riley said. ''He's a
top-tiered player.''

Campbell extended his one-shot lead to three strokes with a
birdie on No. 2 and a three-putt bogey by Howell, and when Howell
made back-to-back birdies to get within two, Campbell put a swift
and decisive end to any charge.

He fearlessly attacked the pin, tucked just over the water on
the par-3 eighth, hitting a 6-iron to 15 feet and making the birdie
putt. On the par-5 ninth, his 5-iron cleared the bunker and stopped
15 feet behind the flag, and he rolled that in for eagle.

At that point, Campbell was 18 under par and had a five-shot

This time, no one could catch him.

Campbell played the back nine in 2 over, but he was only trying
to avoid big numbers. He earned $1.08 million and gets to start
next season in Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes Championships.

''He's been threatening for a while,'' Singh said. ''He's a very
aggressive player. When he gets it going, like this week, there's
no stopping him. We'll hear a lot more from Chad Campbell. This is
not the end of it.''

This might not be the end of Singh, either, even though he
turned 40 this year. He won the money title, something no one
besides Woods has done since 1998, and now is setting his sights on
replacing Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking, a task that could
take a few years.

The only question is whether he beats Woods on the ballots.