Woods blinked first.
Ten years after being touted as a rising star, Campbell finally delivered a major championship no one expected with clutch par saves and a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that proved to be the knockout punch.
The only drama at the end was whether Campbell would beat Pinehurst (search) No. 2. He missed a 3-foot par putt on the final hole for a 1-under 69 to finish the tournament at even par.
It was good enough for a two-shot victory over Woods, who charged along the back nine until missing an 8-foot par putt on the 16th hole, then three-putting from 25 feet on the par-3 17th, the same hole that doomed his chances at Pinehurst six years ago.
Campbell raised his arms when the final putt fell and looked to the sky, stunned by a crowning moment in a career that looked so promising in the British Open at St. Andrews 10 years ago.
The 36-year-old New Zealander tugged his cap down over his face and then dabbed at his eyes. After hugs with his caddie and playing partner Olin Browne, Campbell thrust his fist in the air and threw his ball into the crowd.
"I worked really hard for this, ups and downs from my whole career," Campbell said. "But it's worth the work. It's just amazing."
The last hug was for Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, a fellow New Zealander.
Campbell, who finished at even-par 280, became the first Kiwi to win a major championship since Bob Charles in the 1963 British Open.
Woods stayed behind the 18th green and watched Campbell finish, gently rubbing a clenched fist over his lips as he stared back toward the 17th green, wondering how another U.S. Open at Pinehurst got away from him.
"Unfortunately, it's frustrating," Woods said after a 69, one only four rounds under par on the final day. "If I putt just normal, I'm looking pretty good."
Woods finished at 2-over 282, only the second time he has finished second in a major.
There might not have been any tense moments if not for Retief Goosen, the two-time U.S. Open champion who turned in a collapse that ranks among the greatest in major championship history. He lost his three-shot lead in three holes and crashed in spectacular fashion, closing with an 81.
Gil Morgan was the last 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open to fade so unceremoniously, shooting 81 in the final round in 1992 at Pebble Beach.
"I messed up badly," Goosen said. "I obviously threw this away, but I'll be back next year. We all have bad rounds. It's unfortunate it happened in this tournament."
Jason Gore, who had the massive crowd cheering on the 818th-ranked player in the world, shot 84. Browne, who started the final round tied with Gore three shots from the lead, closed with an 80.
That set the stage for a duel between Campbell and Woods, and all along the back it looked like it could go either way.
"I was telling myself 20 times a hole [to] keep my focus, keep my focus, keep my focus," Campbell said. "And it worked."
Campbell hasn't been in contention at a major since the '95 British Open, where he hit one of the most memorable shots out of the Road Hole bunker to save par and take the lead into the final round. He finished with a 76 at St. Andrews, missing out on the playoff by one shot.
His career has been a roller coaster since, much like the state of his emotions Sunday afternoon at Pinehurst. But he showed the poise of a champion down the stretch, even with roars ripping through the pines.
Woods, eight shots behind as he headed up the third fairway, had the look of a winner when he birdied the first two holes on the back nine to get within two shots of the lead.
Campbell answered with a 25-foot birdie on No. 12, the toughest at Pinehurst in the final round.
Woods stuffed his approach on the 203-yard 15th hole to 5 feet, and the cheer was such a jolt that Campbell backed off his shot on the adjacent 14th fairway. He hit that one to 8 feet and made par.
The tournament effectively ended on the next two holes.
Campbell hit short and into the bunker on the 15th, but hit a terrific shot out to 6 feet to save par. Up ahead, Woods chipped weakly to 8 feet and the par putt grazed the right side of the lip. Needing a birdie, Woods had to attack the hole with his 25-foot putt on the 17th, and it trickled 6 feet by. He missed that for another bogey.
Woods ended with a 12-foot birdie, but even he knew it was too late.
Campbell earned $1.17 million for his first victory in the United States, which comes with five-year exemptions on the PGA Tour and the other three majors.
Sergio Garcia (70), Tim Clark (70) and Mark Hensby (74) tied for third at 5-over 285.
It was the hardly the star-quality leaderboard that Pinehurst produced six years ago, when the late Payne Stewart beat Phil Mickelson with a 15-foot par putt on the last hole, with Woods and Vijay Singh another shot behind.
But it still demanded the best golf, and Campbell proved a worthy champion.
"Hats off to him," Woods said. "He was in the doldrums and worked his way back. Now he's one of the best."
Campbell has played only one full season on the PGA Tour, in 2003, sticking to Europe for most of his golf.
The last time he was in the spotlight was the 2000 Presidents Cup in Virginia, when he performed the Haka, a Maori ritual, before the start of the matches. Campbell described the Haka that day as a challenge, and inspiration to rise above the clouds.
He soared to new heights at Pinehurst No. 2 as a U.S. Open champion that no one saw coming.