The Tiger Tamer : With More Wins Than Woods and a Remarkable Record 59, David Duval Rules

By Starr, Mark | Newsweek, February 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Tiger Tamer : With More Wins Than Woods and a Remarkable Record 59, David Duval Rules


Starr, Mark, Newsweek


If eyes are indeed windows on the soul, David Duval never gave golf fans so much as a glimmer. During his four-plus years on the PGA Tour, he shed a couple dozen pounds and his goatee, but never his wraparound shades. The public saw them, along with Duval's emotionless demeanor on the course, and concluded he was an arrogant automaton. And, a while back, they might have been right-or close enough. Perhaps the young Duval (he's all of 27 now) was too intense, consumed with proving he belonged on the tour with the game's greats.

But Duval has discovered that his game-and his life-can work with a less rigid approach. He no longer stalks the course, but rather strides it purposefully. He'll always be something of a stoic, but he is making an effort, taking fans' grievances about his demeanor to heart. So of late he has begun taking the glasses off, at least in one place: the winner's circle. Since Duval has practically lived there for more than a year, folks have gotten a good look into his baby blues. And they've discovered they like the man, and they love his game.

Last year Duval outearned Tiger Woods, today's measure of golf superstardom, with a record $2.6 million (Tiger won $1.84 million) and nipped him for the Vardon Trophy, representing the best strokes-per- round average on the tour. Since his first pro win, in October 1997, Duval has won nine PGA events to Tiger's one, including triumphs in his first two outings this year. First he crushed an elite field in the Mercedes Open by nine strokes; then he won the Bob Hope Classic with a record final-round 59.

Next week he goes up against Tiger and the 62 other top-ranked players in the world in the World Golf Championships event outside San Diego, featuring head-to-head match play for a $1 million first prize. While Duval will be seeded No. 2, behind Tiger, he has become the man to beat every time he tees off. Woods even joked recently that Duval should spot him a shot per nine holes. And Fred Funk, a top pro, neatly summed up the tour's current thinking on Duval: "There's no question right now he's the best in the world. He's just going to beat you with pure talent." About the only question left is when Duval will win his first major, one of the game's Big Four tournaments. The Masters is coming up in April, and we might just find out that baby blues go well with the winner's green jacket.

Duval has all the strokes, from tee to green. He hits towering, 300- yard drives and is a demon putter. But what sets him apart is his mastery of golf's great equalizer, the mental game. "He's so clearly a thinking player, and that's what will keep him doing very well for a long time," says legend Arnold Palmer. Duval never overreacts to a shot, good or bad. He now understands the tournaments are 72-hole marathons and doesn't try to compensate for a mistake with an immediate miracle shot. "He simply won't let anything bother him," says Dr. Bob Rotella, a sports psychologist who's worked with Duval for 10 years. "He's patient, he trusts himself and his commitment to excel is truly mind-boggling." Of late, Duval has even boggled his own mind. He finds himself in the best playing groove the tour's seen in decades. "It's when you're so focused on what you've got to do and you execute it so perfectly that you don't even remember hitting the ball," he says.

Personally, the man behind the glasses has matured as well. He now travels with his longtime girlfriend, and the two prefer quiet evenings of reading and TV. "You have to be a bear to get where you want to go in this game," Duval says. "But I never thought I was [arrogant]. Apparently, though, I was perceived that way." These days he occasionally looks like he's having fun on the course, even signing autographs during play in a recent competition. …

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