David Duval is as tough to crack as hard-sided luggage, which he
proved anew last week at the Sprint International. Duval arrived
in Denver as dented and scuffed as a suitcase hurled from the
top of the Rockies--or, to choose a more geographically apt
metaphor, one that had been trapped for a week on a baggage
carousel in Chicago, where Duval may as well have worn a KICK ME
sign during the PGA Championship at Medinah.
By touching off the firestorm over whether Ryder Cup players
should be paid, and then being rendered seemingly irrelevant by
a 19-year-old Spanish upstart, Duval, though still ranked No. 2
in the world, had taken a giant step backward. In a week he had
gone from Mr. 59, and the only person deemed to have a chance to
supplant Tiger Woods as No. 1, to an afterthought. In the eyes
of many veteran pros Duval represented not the New Breed but the
New Greed, a younger generation of golfers characterized by
their perceived selfishness. Who needed him, anyway? Sergio
Garcia, the teenager with the scissors kick, seemed a far better
foil for Tiger than did an ingrate with zero personality. Being
the target of such fickleness distressed Duval, although,
typically, he was loath to let on. "I didn't enjoy last week's
attention," was all he would say. Rather than coming apart like
a cheap carry-on, though, Duval showed his grit with a
demonstration of his skills at Castle Pines Golf Club.
The modified Stableford scoring used in the International (eight
points for double eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, none
for par, minus-one for bogey and minus-three for anything worse)
rewards subpar brilliance more than it punishes overpar
mistakes. It's a format made to order for Duval, the Tour leader
in birdie frequency--he makes an average of 4.41 a round--and he
unleashed his power game in a manner not seen since the U.S.
Open at Pinehurst, which he led after 36 holes. (At an elevation
of 6,300 feet, every tee at 7,559-yard Castle Pines is a
launching pad; on one hole, the 623-yard 14th, Duval averaged
388 yards a drive.) In Sunday's final round Duval overpowered
playing partner Garcia, who came in 13th, and overcame two
three-putt greens to take the lead with a birdie, his 25th of
the tournament, on the 71st hole. Alas, David Toms, in the
twosome behind Duval and Garcia, birdied his final two holes to
outscore Duval 47 to 44 and complete a wire-to-wire victory, the
second of his eight-year career.
Toms's win deprived Duval of what would have been his fifth
victory of the year, but the second-place check put him back on
top of the Tour's money list ahead of Woods, who finished 37th.
Duval is winless since taking the BellSouth Classic in April,
when he had a streak of 11 victories in 34 starts, but he made
it clear in Colorado that Woods and he--not Woods and
Garcia--are still the best in the game.
That seemed suddenly at issue after Medinah, where Duval tied
for 10th. His wounds were still raw when he arrived at Castle
Pines on Aug. 17 and stated that he would do no pretournament
interviews, but his mood soon lightened in the mountain setting
that is reminiscent of his summer home in Sun Valley, Idaho. His
catharsis was accelerated the next day when he devoted the
afternoon to Jesse Peetz, a 13-year-old with a rare blood
disorder, Thronbotic Thronbocytopenic Perpura, who chose Duval
through the Make-A-Wish Foundation as the person he most wanted
to spend time with. "I think he's a lot like me," said Peetz,
who knew that Duval's older brother, Brett, died at age 12 after
being stricken with aplastic anemia, a blood disease. "He's
quiet and loves to play golf."
Duval's curtain of reserve comes up around kids, and he and
Peetz hit balls on the range--with Duval's clubs--for close to
two hours. From there it was on to a 45-minute session on the
practice green and another hour relaxing in the locker room. "I
felt like I was around a close friend," said Peetz, who was
given a driver and a putter by Duval. "He said that he had been
playing bad lately. I said that I had, too." Nancy Peetz,
Jesse's mother, said she most appreciated "how natural and
genuine Mr. Duval is. I was thrilled beyond words for my son."
When the Peetz family returned home to O'Neill, Neb., they
received another thrill when Jesse's blood readings were his
best since May.
Duval also felt better after his day with Jesse. "I don't know
if it is so much what I did for him as what he did for me,"
Duval said. Relating how the experience put the PGA in
perspective, he said, "Toward the end of last week I started
laughing about what was going on. My guess that it might not
have been terribly important was confirmed this week."
Duval, being Duval, squelched any suggestion that he was
carrying extra motivation into the International, either to
answer his critics or to respond to the challenge posed by
Garcia. After the third round, when Duval's 36 points and
Garcia's 32 meant that they would be paired on Sunday, Duval at
first stonewalled questions concerning how he felt about playing
with Garcia for the first time. "I don't really understand what
you're asking me," he said. "That's just how it is." Later he
allowed that "it's great that everyone is looking for a rival
for Tiger. If I'm not included in that, fine."
The next day, though, after Garcia received a louder ovation on
the 1st tee than he did, Duval went to work. He birdied the 1st,
3rd and 8th holes, while Garcia struck the ball indifferently
and missed several short putts to fall out of contention. Garcia
later said he had bruised the right side of his torso playing
air hockey at a shopping mall on Saturday night but blamed his
poor round on putting. He also hinted that he had been
intimidated by Duval's play. "I was impressed with David," said
Garcia. "He can hit the ball really long with his driver, yet he
can hit it really soft with his irons. Those are things I want
Duval didn't gloat about outshining El Nino. "It's unfair to
judge him as a player, other than to say he is obviously a pure
talent," said Duval. "He can do some amazing things." Any
suggestion that those sentiments were empty confections was
belied by the way the two players interacted during their round.
Going down the 8th fairway, they joked and laughed. At one point
Duval playfully grabbed Garcia by the back of the neck. "He's a
good kid," said Duval, who was impressed with how Garcia
remained composed and amiable even when his game went south.
"You could see that he respects the game."
A different kind of respect marks Duval's relationship with
Woods. They have a bond based on the pressure and scrutiny
attendant to their positions. Each knows that the other's best
will blow anything but his own best out of the water. Woods has
owned Duval this summer--at Pinehurst, at Carnoustie, at Medinah
and even at the contrived Shootout at Sherwood. ("My worst golf
of the year," says Duval of his play in the made-for-TV event.
"Maybe some of it was nerves.") While it is true that they have
never hooked up down the stretch of any tournament, there
definitely is a strong, if unspoken, rivalry.
"Tiger and I have talked a lot, but we don't need to talk about
that," says Duval. "It's there." But he also concedes, "Tiger
should be Number 1. I haven't played as well, and I'm not sure
why. He's playing the way I was playing the first four months of
Duval's challenge is to stem Woods's run of superiority, and he
clearly relishes what lies ahead. "The guy is unbelievably
talented, and it's a good bet that he's going to get better,"
Duval says. "It's up to me to keep up."