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Shinnecock Open to Another First-Timer

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- First-time major winners are on quite a roll. From Rich Beem to Phil Mickelson, the last six majors have been used to induct new members into the exclusive club. So, is there room for one more at the U.S. Open?
Certainly, it's not out of the question that another neophyte will hoist the trophy Sunday as the sun sets on Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
The list of non-major-winning contenders starts with Sergio Garcia, the consensus choice to inherit Mickelson's former title of Best Player Never to Win a Major.
But also keep an eye on players such as Chad Campbell and Padraig Harrington, who seem poised for a major breakthrough.
'Chad Campbell could easily win this week,' said Lee Janzen, a two-time Open winner. 'He swings fearlessly and he plays fearlessly. Those are two good things to have at this tournament.'
These days, it doesn't hurt to be a guy who's never won a major. It's happened six times in a row, an unprecedented streak in golf history.
The list can be divided into two very distinct groups. There's Mickelson (2004 Masters), Jim Furyk ('03 U.S. Open) and Mike Weir ('03 Masters) - top players who figured to win a major at some point in their careers. Then there's Shaun Micheel ('03 PGA Championship), Ben Curtis ('03 British Open) and Beem ('02 PGA Championship) - largely unknown players who pulled off fluky upsets and haven't done much since.
Maybe that latter group didn't feel the intense pressure that accompanies players such as Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at every major. Maybe that will help another upstart who's gone through three days of practice without drawing much attention.
'I always feel that when I play a major, I really need to be in contention over the weekend,' Els said. 'Maybe other players just like to come in and not really have any expectations and just enjoy the week for what it is.'
Garcia is hardly unknown, already making a couple of strong runs at his first major. He finished second to Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship and was fourth at the U.S. Open two years ago.
Only 24, the Spaniard has enough ability and experience to win a major, but he is still young enough that he's not burdened the way Mickelson was before he captured the green jacket in April.
'I'm pretty comfortable with my game,' Garcia said. 'I've been getting quite consistent throughout these past years. I really feel like I have a bit more confidence in myself to try to do something here.'
Garcia seems to be peaking at just the right time. He's won twice in the past five weeks, taking the Byron Nelson and last week's Buick Classic at Westchester.
Still, history is working against him. The last European to win the Open was England's Tony Jacklin in 1970, though the issue has become less significant as more players from across the Atlantic - Garcia included - play regularly on the PGA Tour.
'It would be great to get a European guy to win here,' he said. 'But the field is so strong, and the players nowadays, everybody can play so well. Everybody has their chance. Hopefully we can get some Europeans up there and at least threaten.'
Campbell is a popular dark horse this week, on the verge of being recognized as an elite player in just his third year on tour. He'll get a chance to shine at Shinnecock, playing in the group with Woods on the first two days.
The 30-year-old Texan was runner-up to Micheel at last year's PGA Championship, won the Tour Championship to end 2003 and captured his second career victory in March at Bay Hill.
Off the tee and in the fairway, Campbell's game is certainly major quality. He ranks fifth in total driving and ninth in reaching greens in regulation.
'He just gets up there and hits the ball,' Janzen said. 'He doesn't seem to spend much time on the technical part of the game. That's a very good way to be.'
There are still questions about Campbell's short game, which will be especially critical on the slick greens and sloping run-offs of Shinnecock Hills.
'The short part is not the best part of his game,' Janzen said. 'And you've got to be able to chip and putt around this place.'
Furyk said Campbell's perceived weaknesses are overblown.
'A lot of times, you look at someone who has a good short game and it's because they don't hit it very good,' Furyk said. 'Chad is a very solid ball striker. Maybe his short game is not at the level of his ball striking. ... But if he wasn't a well-rounded player, he wouldn't have had the consistent success he's had over the last year, year and a half.'
Harrington is one of the top players on the European Tour and usually plays well at the U.S. Open, finishing in the top 10 three times since 2000. Last week, during a tuneup at Westchester, he lost to Garcia in a playoff. The Irishman's experience on links-style courses should serve him well at Shinnecock.
'There is a lot of difficulty out there. Sometimes, experience and the fear you have from experience will hamper you on this golf course,' Harrington said. 'You could definitely see someone without the experience winning this week. Yeah, no problem.'
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