That rarest of treasures, a round of 59 on the PGA Tour, is almost
by definition touched by magic. Shots are outrageously holed from
the fairway. Putts drop after traversing the length of tortuous
greens. Nervousness is temporarily short-circuited.
What made the 59 strokes David Duval rode to victory on Sunday in
the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic so memorable was
that almost all of them were devoid of romance. (The longest shot
he holed all day was a 10-foot putt.) Instead, Duval masterfully
strung together 11 birdies and one climactic eagle, on the 90th
and final hole of the five-round event, to come back from a
seven-shot deficit--one off the Tour record for a final-day
charge--and beat Steve Pate by a stroke.
"It helped me that this happened when I was trying to win," said
Duval, who now has two victories in his first two starts of the
1999 season. "I didn't think about my score until I got to 11
under, on the 16th hole. I just kept trying to make more
birdies." The 59 was as close as a round of golf gets to
perfection, and the way Duval accomplished it left the
impression that it was not necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime
Of course, getting the stoic, square-jawed Duval to acknowledge
the magnificence of what he had just done is probably too much
to ask. As he waited by the 18th green for Pate, in the final
group, to finish his round on Sunday evening, Duval was
approached by his girlfriend, Julie McArthur. She was thrilled
at what she had seen over the previous five hours but could
sense that Duval was still in combat mode, staying primed for a
possible playoff should Pate birdie 18.
February 1, 1999
"Hi, honey," she said tentatively, a forced calm in her voice.
"Hey," Duval grunted back. Acting as if she hadn't seen him hit
a shot all day, McArthur said, "How are you?" Duval, with just a
hint of a smirk, said, "I'm good."
Despite how little Duval divulges about himself and his
aspirations, there is no denying the accuracy of that
self-assessment. Duval has won nine of the last 28 tournaments
he has entered. Along with his two-stroke victory at the
Mercedes Championships to open the season, he's 52 under par
after 162 holes in '99 and has already won more than $1 million.
Although Tiger Woods is two-tenths of a percentage point ahead
of Duval atop the World Ranking, there is no debate among the
players about who is No. 1. Some disagree as to whether Duval is
the best driver, the best iron player or the best putter, but
there is no disagreement on who is the best golfer, and on
Sunday Duval may have played the finest round ever.
At first blush that's an outlandish statement. The greatest
round is not simply a matter of putting up the lowest number. If
that were the case, the two other 59s shot in Tour events--Al
Geiberger did it in the second round of the 1977 Memphis
Classic, and Chip Beck matched it in the third round of the 1991
Las Vegas Invitational--would be contenders, and they are not.
The consensus in the golf world is that the greatest rounds were
shot by Hall of Fame players to win major championships on top
courses. The list includes Ben Hogan's 67 at Oakland Hills in
the '51 U.S. Open, Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont in the '73 Open
and Jack Nicklaus's 65 at the '86 Masters.
This year's Hope was not such a momentous occasion, except
perhaps for Michael Jordan fans. Nor was the 6,950-yard, par-72
Palmer Course at PGA West--though interesting, with five par-5s
and five par-3s--a great track. It can also be argued that the
27-year-old Duval cannot be considered a great player until he
wins a major. Still, what he did on Sunday was alltime.
First, Duval's was the best of the 59s because it was the only
one that came in the final round, and he needed every stroke of
it to win the tournament. Geiberger's came under soggy
conditions, when players were allowed to pick up their ball in
the fairway, and clean and place it in a perfect lie. Beck's 59
was shot at the highly suspect (par 72, 6,914-yard) Sunrise Golf
Club, which has subsequently been dropped from the tournament's
Second, Duval's eagle on the par-5, 543-yard 18th was golf
theater at its best. After an enormous drive of more than 320
yards (Duval averaged 295.6 yards off the tee last week) to the
heart of the fairway, he had 226 yards to the pin, set in the
back of a long green guarded by water on the left side. Duval
flushed a five-iron that carried about 210 yards, then ran
hole-high, six feet from the pin. On a day full of superb shots,
the five-iron was Duval's best. As he calmly rolled in the
right-to-left breaking putt, Duval let his emotional wraps fall
away, uncharacteristically unleashing a series of right crosses
before raising his arms in triumph.
Finally, what gives Duval's 59 the gravity to rival history's
greatest rounds was the unprecedented way in which he was able to
mesh power with ball control. "He has an amazing follow-through,
which is a key to accuracy and power," says Miller. "He has
tremendous range of motion and total extension to the target."
Duval was hitting on all cylinders on Sunday. He hit 11 of 13
fairways in regulation, 17 of 18 greens in regulation and had
only 23 putts. All told, Duval hit approaches inside of five
feet on half of the holes. "It was an easy 59," said Jeff
Maggert, one of Duval's playing partners, who felt like a duffer
while shooting a 66. "I've never seen anyone hit the ball that
close for an entire round. It was sort of like a no-hitter. I
didn't want to say the wrong thing. Finally, after he stiffed it
for the fourth straight time on a par-3, I said, 'I didn't
realize we were playing par-2s today.'"
Such bursts of birdies were what marked Miller's remarkable
prime in the mid-'70s. While the 63 at Oakmont, which took him
from six strokes off the lead to victory, has been called the
greatest round ever by Golf Magazine, Miller thinks his 61 in
the final round of the '75 Tucson Open might have been better.
But as proud as he is of those accomplishments, even Miller, who
watched the final round of the Hope from his house in Napa,
Calif., gives the nod to Duval's 59. "His distance control was
phenomenal," Miller said. "He hits that wonderful high fade with
his irons that is the scoring shot when the greens are firm.
Where David has the advantage over me is length. He is a gifted
ball striker, like guys such as Nick Price, Lee Trevino, Lanny
Wadkins and myself, but he's so much stronger than any of us. He
plays a much shorter course, so it's easier for him to hit it
Duval's 59 will only get better with age, especially if he wins
the majors that are essential to making a mark in golf history.
Should that happen, Sunday's round will be considered his coming
out, his statement, much like Nicklaus's 64 in the third round of
the '65 Masters.
Nicklaus raised the bar for all golfers that day in Augusta,
just the way Duval and Woods are doing today. They are ushering
in a new era of young, well-conditioned, technically proficient
players who bomb the ball down the fairway, hit high,
soft-landing iron shots that nestle next to the pin, and they
putt aggressively. In the future Duval's 59 will be looked on as
a key point in the continuum.
Of course, he will never fess up to any of this. "If I sit here
and anoint myself the best player, that doesn't help me get
better," Duval said. "That doesn't help me win tournaments. That
doesn't do anything for me. But improving does."
Duval will surely improve, and as he does, it won't be long
before 58 becomes the new magic number.