In 1999 David Duval ascended to No. 1 in the World Ranking,
played on his first Ryder Cup team and won four Tour events and
more than $3.6 million, finishing second on the money list. Has
anyone ever had a worse year?
Duval, 28, began the season as the best player in the world and
finished it as the most enigmatic. Along the way his bulletproof
game disappeared at two defining moments--on the back nine on
Sunday at the Masters and on the weekend of the U.S. Open.
Duval's season soon spun out of control as he began making
headlines with his mouth, not his golf.
Duval sparked a tabloid frenzy at the British Open for his
criticism of Carnoustie, and a month later at the PGA he was
singled out as the ringleader of the Brookline Four, having
launched the Ryder Cup pay-for-play controversy with some
typically blunt remarks. Finally, Duval skipped the
season-ending World tour event at Valderrama, claiming he didn't
want to travel to Spain because there was nothing to play for.
Duval's no-show dealt such a blow to the credibility of the
nascent circuit that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem felt
compelled to offer an alibi on Duval's behalf. At some point
during all this, Duval went from being respected for his honesty
to being reviled for his selfishness. The public wanted to know:
Was this guy ever going to just shut up and play?
Duval is still talking, though he's wary these days. Request an
interview, and he asks the first questions: "What's your tone
going to be?" he says. "Am I going to get nailed again? I'm a
little gun-shy about all of this."
All this, Duval says, is "the b.s. factor--a lot of peripheral
stuff that's absurd to my mind. It's disgusting to me that people
read and believe this filth. It's reckless, it's malicious, and
Duval has an impressive vocabulary, but over the last eight
months he hasn't come up with an eloquent rebuttal, on or off
the course, to his critics. Case in point was last week's Skins
Game outside Palm Springs, Calif. What was he even doing there?
Duval wouldn't deign to go to Spain but traveled cross-country
over the Thanksgiving holiday to tee it up in the most Velveeta
of all made-for-TV spectacles. "I believe we're private
contractors, are we not?" he says.
Duval hardly made a stronger case between the ropes. He
sleepwalked around Landmark Golf Club, distracted and distant.
Duval was shut out during last Saturday's opening nine and drew
a blank again on Sunday, running his skinless streak to 36
holes, including his 0-fer in 1997. He missed a four-footer that
would have won a skin at the 15th, and on the par-5 18th, with
the largest skin in the event's history ($410,000) on the line,
he dumped his second shot in the water, taking an ignominious X.
That opened the door for Fred Couples, who, after driving into a
flower bed, scrambled for a birdie to win the skin. For two
days' work Couples collected a Skins-record $635,000, Mark
O'Meara cashed $245,000, and Sergio Garcia, in his first Skins
Game, made $120,000.
The Skins was Duval's final appearance of '99. "I thought it was
a great, great year," he says, "but no matter what happens, it's
never going to be enough for everybody. That's one thing I
learned this year."
The end of Duval's year was in stark contrast to the beginning.
He opened with a command performance at the Mercedes
Championships, winning by nine strokes, and three weeks later
dropped his historic 59 on the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. That
start, combined with his Tour-leading four wins in '98, left
little doubt that Duval was the best player in the world, and
that he still trailed Tiger Woods in the World Ranking provoked
weekly waves of protest. Duval finally ended Woods's 41-week
reign with a dominating victory in the Players Championship at
the end of March. Duval won again a week later, at the BellSouth
Classic, and then roared into the Masters for what was supposed
to be his coronation. Instead, he lost his aura of invincibility.
The first crack appeared during the second round at Augusta
National, when after laying up at the par-5 15th, he made a
shocking triple bogey. He clawed back into contention and, after
a stirring charge on Sunday, was within one of the leaders when
he reached the 11th hole. There Duval splashed his four-iron
approach into Rae's Creek, leading to a double bogey that killed
his chances. "I haven't thought about that shot since it
happened," he says.
In Duval's universe there is no disappointment or frustration,
and he won't acknowledge any side effects from blowing a chance
to win the Masters for a second straight year. "It was
deflating, yes, but it's deflating most every week out here," he
Duval dropped out of sight after Augusta, taking three weeks
off, then mailing it in at Houston and New Orleans. "I wasn't
really into it," he says. From New Orleans through the PGA, a
span of more than three months that makes up the heart of the
schedule, Duval played only three tournaments other than the
majors, a bizarre bit of lassitude even for a guy known for
quirky scheduling. "I played so sporadically this year that I
could never get a good rhythm," says Duval. "I will try to do a
better job of scheduling, which probably means playing more."
Duval did finish a strong third at the Memorial, his one tune-up
before the Open, and says, "You can't say I wasn't prepared,
because my game was there at Pinehurst." For two rounds, anyway.
Duval opened with a 67-70 to share the lead but went 75-75 on
the weekend to tie for seventh. "I failed to execute," he says.
"There is no deeper explanation."
Others disagreed. Duval has never enjoyed the burdens that come
with being a top player, and after he went to No. 1, the demands
increased. After Duval's fades at Augusta and Pinehurst, the
notion that he wasn't willing to pay the price began to gain
currency. "That's the thing I don't understand," he says. "Just
because I don't win a certain event, I'm afraid to be Number 1?
I don't buy that--at all."
The scrutiny on Duval increased at Carnoustie, where the
tabloids had a field day with him. Things reached such a fever
pitch that he wound up being pilloried for his ugly Americanism
on the op-ed page of the august London Times. "I read some
things over there that were shocking," he says. "Supposedly I
ripped the R&A, called the course a joke and said I'd never play
over there again. Those were outright fabrications, and to have
them printed by supposedly reputable news organizations was very
disillusioning." Duval didn't help himself by opening with a 79
and finishing 62nd.
Fifteen days after the British, Duval teed it up in the Showdown
at Sherwood, the contrived prime-time match against Woods, who
was already beginning to ride the hot streak that would shoot him
back to the top. Taking part in the show was a curious move by
Duval, who had nearly pulled a muscle earlier in the year trying
to downplay the rivalry. He played poorly under the klieg lights
and looked uncomfortable throughout. The official, IMG-approved
rivalry with Woods would be short-lived.
"Two weeks later I wasn't even a part of [the rivalry] anymore,"
Duval says. That was because of Garcia's coming-out party at the
PGA. Garcia was the anti-Duval, a telegenic emoter who wasn't
about to let Woods kick sand in his face, and golf fans clutched
him to their collective bosom. "If I understand correctly, the
criticism is really about my personality, not my game," Duval
says. "People want me to be more vocal, pump my fist more, act
more emotional. That's not me. I thought it was the scores that
As for Garcia, Duval is complimentary but occasionally prickly.
Asked about him at the Skins, Duval said, "I don't derive any
motivation from Sergio. I don't believe he has won over here."
Duval's image took another hit at the PGA, as he remained
outspoken in his belief that the players should have some say in
the allocation of Ryder Cup profits. Through an endless series
of press conferences and locker-room grillings, Duval stuck to
his guns, as he always does, and he remains unrepentant. "I
think it's a hell of an irony that I was hung out to dry by all
these magazines and newspapers for supposedly being greedy when
they're sensationalizing and misrepresenting what I've said so
they can sell more copies and make more money," he says. "Aren't
they being greedy too?"
All this controversy would have been an interesting sidelight
had it not sidetracked Duval. Through the U.S. Open he had those
four victories and four other top seven finishes. Following the
Open he had only one chance to win, when he came in second at
the International. By the time Valderrama rolled around, Woods
had already won the money title and everything else. All along
Duval had said that he would play in Spain only if he had a shot
at repeating as the leading money winner, and no amount of
public hand-wringing could change his mind. Thus we were given
the bizarre scene of Finchem, the most powerful man in the game,
making excuses for the No. 2 player in the world. The commish
said that it was his understanding that Duval hadn't flown over
because he has trouble sleeping overseas. We are not making this
"I don't have a sleeping disorder," says Duval. "I toss and turn
a lot, and sometimes I have trouble falling asleep. That's not
why I didn't go to Spain."
After the Skins, Duval headed home to Jacksonville Beach, Fla.,
where he'll spend the next month licking his wounds and
recharging for the upcoming season. He has already set his
goals, and they are ambitious. "It's my intention to do
everything I can to prepare for the major championships," he
says. "If this is what you want, then I'll say it: I intend to
win the Masters. I intend to win the U.S. Open. I intend to win
the British Open. And I intend to win the PGA Championship."
It remains to be seen what tournaments Duval will win in 2000,
but one thing is certain: He will remain the game's most
fascinating figure. "I don't know how people perceive me," he
says, "but I love to play, I love to compete, I speak my mind,
and I won't change my approach. I'm not trying to create an
image. I'm just being myself."
says Duval. "It's reckless, it's malicious, and it's unfair."