We can't wait. To be precise, we won't wait--not us, not the Now
Generation. We want our heroes and our heroics the same as our
fast food, our E-mail, our faxes and our life experiences. We
want them now. That's why we're so taken by someone like Tiger
Woods, who won in his fifth start as a pro, or Phil Mickelson,
who won on Tour while he was still an amateur, or even Jack
Nicklaus, whose first win in his first year was the U.S. Open.
Someone like David Duval has no chance with us. Instead of being
considered one of the best players on the PGA Tour, he's labeled
the best player without a victory. Duval loses every match
against our shrinking attention spans. Although he's only 25, in
our minds he's already a graybeard, a grizzled veteran who's
practically ready for the Senior tour. By the time he gets that
elusive first win--which might take several more weeks, maybe
months--it'll be too late. We will have already clicked the
remote. We don't understand why Duval, a native of Jacksonville
and in his third year on Tour, hasn't already mastered stuff
like closing the door and stepping on necks, why he's burdened
with the same shortcomings that kept Tom Watson and Curtis
Strange and Fred Couples from winning until their third seasons.
So last week at the BellSouth Classic we were again unable to
announce Duval's arrival as the latest greatest. Long-hitting
Scott McCarron got in the way, although Greg Norman and Nick
Price almost did the honors, at the vast TPC at Sugarloaf, a
course Norman designed in the rolling hills of what is,
temporarily, the northeast edge of Atlanta's suburban sprawl.
Instead we were left to puzzle over another high, yet somehow
unsatisfying, finish by Duval, who has been among the top three
in 11 tournaments in his 47 months on Tour. He began the final
round tied with McCarron, and played well, especially on
Sugarloaf's dazzling back nine. The catch? Duval's scorecard
read even-par 72, which left him in a tie for second with Brian
Henninger and Lee Janzen. McCarron shot 69 and won by three. The
fine line between McCarron's second Tour win and Duval's seventh
second was a matter of a few putts. McCarron, using a long
putter, made more than Duval, who kept coming close.
Close...that's the tough part, and an unfortunate pattern for
Duval. Even at Georgia Tech, where he was only the third
Division I player, along with Gary Hallberg and Mickelson, to
make first-team All-America four times, Duval finished second in
11 tournaments while winning five. His first, and only, trip to
the Tour's qualifying school was a humbling experience. Billed
as the Can't-Miss Kid, he failed to get his card. Relegated to
the Nike tour for two years, he finally won enough money to
graduate to the big Tour, where he played well almost from the
start. Duval was 11th on the money list in 1995 and 10th in '96,
when he starred in the Presidents Cup. With $2.4 million in
career earnings, he is about $200,000 away from passing Bobby
Wadkins as the leading money winner who has never won; however,
it took Wadkins 22 years and more than 600 tournaments to get
where he is, while Duval has made less than 80 starts.
Duval has been good enough to lead five times after 54 holes but
never good enough to finish first. "David has just been beat,"
says Tour veteran Patrick Burke. "It's almost like what Norman
went through. When David gets in contention, the other guys seem
to play better. Watson struggled with his putter for years, but
when David had a chance to win at Memorial last year, Tom
suddenly started making putts and won. David played well at
Pebble Beach in '95, but Peter Jacobsen blitzed him."
At Pebble, Duval tied the old tournament scoring record during
Jacobsen's victory. This year Duval shot 62 in the third round
to break the 72-hole record again but was beaten by an even
hotter Mark O'Meara. No one seems to remember that Duval
finished birdie-birdie to tie for second with Woods. "If I keep
tying Tiger," Duval joked, "I'll be fine."
There were other good chances. As an amateur in 1992, Duval led
the BellSouth after three rounds but blew up with a 79 on
Sunday. Last year in Atlanta he led by two after 54 holes,
struggled to a 76 and tied for third--the one instance, he says,
when he felt that he let a tournament get away, that he lost it.
"A professional ought to be able to scrape it around in 72 or 73
even on a bad day," Duval says. He couldn't come up with an
acceptable final round this year at Doral, either. After a
nine-birdie 70 gave him a one-shot edge over Price after three
rounds, Duval closed with a 74 and tied for fourth as Steve
Elkington blew by everyone.
Usually, tournament winners are the guys who play best on the
weekend. At Sugarloaf, Duval started with a pair of 66s. He was
one over par on the weekend. McCarron went nine under on
Saturday and Sunday despite pulling his left hamstring during a
brief rain delay on Friday. Jogging down the fairway to mark his
ball, he accepted Dicky Pride's challenge to race. Sixty yards
later, McCarron felt a pop.
"All David has to think about is: It's a 72-hole tournament and
you have to play good for four days," says Janzen, the 1993 U.S.
Open champion whose reputation as a closer earned him the
nickname Terminator. "David's going to win, and he's probably
going to win by 10 when he does. No one expected me to win in my
third year. In some ways you've got to be lucky to win. I've
been lucky a few times. David hasn't."
The statistics highlight Duval's Sunday shortcomings. Last year
he averaged two strokes more in the final round than he did in
the third. This year that gap has widened to three strokes
(69.33 to 72.33). Despite that telltale number, Duval
steadfastly clings to the long view: He'll accept the near
misses because he feels his game is improving. Still, it's not
getting any easier to answer the inevitable questions. "I want
to win more than y'all are curious as to why I haven't," he said
on Saturday when the subject came up for a third straight day.
"Writers say, 'You don't seem destroyed by it.' There's no
reason to be. When you can say you've done your best, there's
nothing more to do. I'm flattered people ask. That means they
think I can win. If you want to call not winning choking, it
doesn't bother me."
Choke? The word never came up during the 1991 Walker Cup when
Duval, looking at a five-footer for par to win a crucial
foursomes match for the U.S., had to twice back off the putt
while a truck with squealing tires barreled past the course in
Dublin. Duval sank the putt. No one questioned him last year,
either, when he had a perfect (4-0) record in the Presidents
Cup. Yet when he gets in the red zone--Sunday afternoon with a
chance to win--something always seems to happen.
At Sugarloaf, Duval lost sole possession of the lead on the
final hole of the third round, a 576-yard par-5, when he bounced
his lay-up shot into the pond in front of the green, made bogey
and dropped into a tie with McCarron. On Sunday, Duval lost a
shot on the opening hole when his approach from the rough
rocketed over the green, his bump-and-run chip pulled up lame in
the fringe and he bogeyed. He also missed birdie opportunities
on both of the par-5 holes on the front side. At the 4th he
pulled his three-iron second shot into a rocky stream but saved
par. He bogeyed the 6th by yanking a wedge shot into a deep
swale to the left of the green--"A place where you get up and
down one out of 50 times, unless you make a long putt," he said.
Three small mistakes. Nothing serious, but enough to lose three
shots to McCarron, a third-year pro from Rancho Murieta, Calif.,
who used his great length--he's second on the Tour in driving
distance (285.3 yards) to Woods (291.5)--to birdie both of the
front-nine par-5s. After that, Duval was back in the pack with
the also-rans. Duval didn't choke. He was nearly flawless from
the 7th hole on, rarely leaving his approach shots more than 15
feet from the pin on the last 12 holes.
No, there must be another reason. Some people wonder if he
would've won by now if he used a top caddie, like Mike (Fluff)
Cowan or Bruce Edwards, instead of his buddy Jeff Weber. Maybe
the trouble is a lack of confidence in his bunker play. Duval's
very proud of his short game, and even with a power fade, he's
the 13th-longest driver on Tour. He also hits a lot of iron
shots close to the hole.
McCarron didn't see much wrong with Duval on Sunday, although he
was surprised that Duval laid up at the 310-yard, par-4 13th.
McCarron drove the green and two-putted for an easy birdie.
Duval pitched on and missed his birdie try. "That seemed a
little defensive," McCarron said. "He hits it about as long as I
do. He has got to be aggressive on the last day. It seemed like
maybe he was waiting for it to happen."
Recently Duval got together with Bob Rotella, a sports
psychologist he has worked with since college. Rotella asked if
Duval saw any deficiencies in his game. "That's a time you've
got to be honest with yourself," Duval says. "I said, 'Yeah, my
strategy with my irons. Sometimes I hit them so good that I aim
at too many pins and don't play smart.'"
They decided to draw a patience line between Duval's five- and
six-iron. When he had a shot longer than a six-iron, Duval would
play for the middle of the green instead of going for broke.
They were discussing the new strategy last Tuesday during a
practice round at Sugarloaf. On the 1st hole Duval had a
five-iron approach and the pin was cut temptingly on the right
side of the green--perfect for his left-to-right ball flight.
But no, he would be patient and play to the middle of the green.
The ball went right where he had aimed, running to the back
edge. As they walked to the green, Duval looked up to see his
ball creeping down toward the hole. As he watched, it dropped
into the cup.
"It was great," Duval said. "We laughed like hell. Bob can tell
that story for the next 50 years."
With any luck, he'll have other stories to tell. But patience?
Duval has plenty. It's the rest of us who need it.