Most English-Japanese dictionaries will tell you that the
correct translation of smile is egao. Egad, there were a lot of
egaos on display on Sunday as Shigeki Maruyama took what almost
certainly will be the strongest field between the Masters and
the U.S. Open and stuffed it in his back pocket. Maruyama
cruised to victory in the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic,
finishing at 14-under-par 266 to beat rookie Ben Crane by two
shots, Tiger Woods by four and Ernie Els and David Toms by six.
Maruyama, who won in Milwaukee 10 months ago, appears
constitutionally incapable of keeping a straight face. He spent
four rounds playing for and to the crowds at the TPC Four
Seasons Resort, in Irving, Texas. When he was presented with a
cowboy hat on Sunday evening, Maruyama put it on, grabbed hold
of some imaginary reins and bounced up and down in his chair.
His personality spills over the language barrier like a tsunami
coming over a seawall. "I wish I could speak some English,"
Maruyama said through an interpreter after settling back into
his chair, "because if I can speak English I could make you
Maruyama, 31, is the first Asian to win two PGA Tour events and
is making the Tour look like the American League looked in 2001,
when Japanese star Ichiro upstaged the best baseball players in
the world. Back home, said Maruyama, who has houses in Chiba,
Japan, and Los Angeles, "there's no comparison. Ichiro is a
superstar. But I am pretty famous."
"Who is bigger in Japan?" Maruyama was asked. "You or Tiger?"
"In Japan, of course, myself," Maruyama said without hesitation.
Inside the ropes at the Nelson, the 5'7" Maruyama came up bigger,
too. In a field that included eight of the top nine players in
the World Ranking, Maruyama rushed to the front with a 63 last
Friday, then maintained at least a two-stroke lead over the final
36 holes. The only player to close within two of him on Sunday
was Crane, 26, whose failure to overtake Maruyama saved him the
embarrassment of following up a first win on Tour with a week
off. Crane is to be married this Saturday to Heather Heinze in
The Nelson served as a call to the post for the June 13-16 U.S.
Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island. "These three weeks are
all really good fields, not even counting Tiger," said Scott
Verplank, referring to the Nelson, this week's MasterCard
Colonial and the Memorial. "This is the time to check where
you're at." The Nelson has also established itself as the place
where Woods makes his first post-Masters appearance, an honor
the tournament earned because of Woods's fondness for the
90-year-old legend whose name is above the lights. When the Tour
announced last week that the Nelson will be played on the third
weekend in May next year to make room for a new tournament in
Charlotte, the collective blood pressure of the Salesmanship
Club--the volunteers who run the Nelson--shot up. Woods annually
follows up his Dallas-area appearance by playing in Germany,
where he reportedly will receive a $2 million fee to appear in
this week's Deutsche Bank-SAP Open, in Heidelberg. The schedule
shift sets up a choice between Woods's affection for deutsche
marks and his respect for Nelson, who in 1993 invited the then
17-year-old Woods to play in Irving as an amateur. "I would have
a hard time saying no to him," Woods said the day before the
tournament began, a sentiment he repeated on Sunday.
The quality of the Nelson field is a testament to the players'
regard for Lord Byron, as well as their love for--and perhaps fear
of--their wives. The women of the PGA Tour love the Four Seasons
Resort and Spa for the pampering they receive throughout the
week, but as one Tour spouse said last week, referring to the
feminine pulchritude for which the Nelson is famous, "Half the
wives come here to make sure their husbands don't cheat."
Among the top-ranked golfers who played well at the Nelson was
David Duval, whose final-round 67 lifted him into 15th place. In
eight years on Tour, Duval has won 13 tournaments and has never
finished lower than 11th on the money list, so a 15th-place
finish is barely worth mentioning, but for the fact that Duval
has yet to have an impressive performance this season. The 2002
Duval left the Nelson ranked 84th in earnings and riding a streak
of 10 consecutive starts without a top 10 finish, his longest
stretch since a 12-tournament streak in '97. Duval finished that
season by winning the last three events of the year and then won
eight more over the next two seasons to reach No. 1 in the World
Ranking. He began this year ranked third and has since fallen to
No. 6. Duval is 30 and over the last three years has suffered
back problems, tendinitis in his left wrist and now tendinitis in
his right shoulder. The last injury, Duval can laugh about. While
snowboarding in Sun Valley, Idaho, in January, Duval took a spill
that he describes as a "face plant." When his board caught in the
snow, Duval kept going, landing on his face and right shoulder.
"Train wreck?" he was asked.
"Yeah. It turns out the train had some toxic chemicals in it,"
The blow to his shoulder caused a nagging pain that Duval tried
to play through. When that didn't work, he bailed out of
Wednesday's pro-am before the Nelson to fly to Birmingham and
have the shoulder examined. "I couldn't get much height," he said
on Sunday as he stood in front of his locker pantomiming a swing
that stopped at shoulder level. "My arm didn't want to be up
there." Duval had resigned himself to hearing that he would need
arthroscopic surgery and a month's layoff, and had already
decided that he would put off the surgery until after attempting
to defend his British Open title at Muirfield. However, Dr. Bill
Clancy prescribed exercises and Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory
medication, instead of surgery, and Duval has been told that if
he is a good patient, he should be pain-free well before he
arrives at Bethpage.
Physically pain-free, that is. The shoulder trauma didn't rock
Duval as hard as the emotional trauma he suffered when he and his
fiancee, Julie McArthur, ended their eight-year relationship in
January. Duval is a private man and, as the nontreatment of his
shoulder illustrates, a stoic. "Life's events have happened to
me," he says. "These things happen over the course of a career.
Breaking up is hard on anybody. I don't like to talk about it.
You might have gotten divorced or lost a child. That's life."
There was no wariness in Duval's voice as he discussed his
personal life. He even went on to show the dry sense of humor
that his friends appreciate. He was asked if he would make time
to play Bethpage Black before Open week. "I'd like to," he said,
"but I don't want to sleep in my car."
Duval said there were no hard feelings on either side after he
and McArthur decided to go their separate ways. The breakup is
either the catalyst for or a product of Duval's reassessment of
his priorities. He made it clear that he is not as driven as he
was when he won 11 of 34 starts from the fall of 1997 through the
spring of '99. "Golf is not the most important thing in my life,"
Duval said. "I haven't found the enjoyment in it that I once
did." Returning to the top of the World Ranking doesn't interest
him. "Been there, done that," he said. Once he regains full
mobility of his shoulder, Duval may begin to drive it in the
fairway again. He hit only 26 of 56 fairways last week, fewer
than any of the 14 players who finished ahead of him. "I had a
couple of good days," Duval said, "which is a victory for me."
There are as many victors as there are definitions of victory.
Maruyama, through an interpreter, said winning against such a
strong field "does make me very happy and very pleased, but I am
still looking at something higher to achieve." Maruyama's
boyhood hero, Isao Aoki, finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the
1980 U.S. Open. "I haven't passed Mr. Aoki yet," Maruyama said.
This could be the year.
"Breaking up is hard on anybody."