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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON GOLF: The Masters

King David

Duval Is Already No. 1, but Come Sunday He Could Also Be the Master

April 08, 1999|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters begins today and it's looking as if there is only one question that needs to be answered besides how rough the rough will be: What's David Duval's coat size?

If this is supposed to be Duval's coming-out party in majors, then what better site could there be, out here in the middle of the trees and the azaleas and the dogwoods, where there is more history than pine needles?

Here is the Masters field: Duval and 95 other guys. That's the way it seems, anyway. In only three months, Duval already has won four times, become the No. 1 player in the world, made more money than any player has in one year, played eight events in a combined 86 under par, shot 17 rounds in the 60s and one in the 50s, averaged 68.7 shots a round and basically intimidated everybody else to the point where they're scared to show up.

That sort of makes the 27-year-old Duval the obvious favorite at the Masters. The last time anything was so obvious, it was when they found out that Rae's Creek was wet.

Fred Couples, who tied for second with Duval a year ago, certainly thinks that Duval is the one to beat.

"This guy's so good, his golf game, it's incredible," Couples said. "He's winning and it looks very easy. I just haven't seen anyone do that.

"He's a lot better than a lot of people and he's a little better than Ernie Els and Tiger Woods.

"He's got talent and it's a great one."

He's also got some money socked away. Duval has made $2,598,300, more than his record-breaking total of $2.51 million last year. What's more, Duval has replaced Woods as the No. 1 player in the Official Golf Ranking and isn't showing any signs of slacking off.

In fact, it took three birdies in the last four holes by Mark O'Meara to keep Duval from last year's Masters title. He has won 11 times in his last 34 tournaments, a pace that could stand up to anyone, if there was anyone to compare it with in the modern age.

Greg Norman said Duval's success rate reminds him of someone: himself.

"Probably in 1993, '94 where I felt like I walked to the first tee and wondered who was going to finish second this week," Norman said. "And that's not from pure arrogance or egotistical. That's pure confidence.

"And you can see that with David right now. I think it's great for the game to see somebody doing what David's doing. Because people are kind of like [saying] 'Boy, what's it like to be in his shoes right now?' "

As it turns out, Duval is feeling the same as he always does in his shoes right now. That would be sort of understated, not very excited, focused, semi-quiet.

You were expecting flash? The flashiest thing about Duval are the wraparound sunglasses he wears to protect his light-sensitive eyes.

For instance, when Duval was told of Norman's comments about who would finish second, he was asked if he ever felt the same way.

"No, uh-uh, no," Duval said. "I do think that if I'm ready to play and I go out and play well and think clearly, I'll have a chance to win, yes. But I don't think that necessarily means I'm not going to get beat. I don't think that way."

That's typical Duval. Actually, it's a virtual filibuster for him. It's not that he's uncooperative, because he's not. It's just that Duval isn't exactly, well, colorful.

In fact, he was even asked if he considered himself "a dullard" during his pre-tournament session with the print media.

"My personality or my golf game?" Duval answered evenly.

It's not that he cared either way, but Duval talked about his personality.

"If that's a perception, that's fine. That's how I try to play. I try not to make mistakes. I try to make it a very stress-free round of golf every time I tee it up. I don't want to have to worry about bogeys and double bogeys. I try to keep the stress level as minimal as I can."

Well, you'd have to say he has done a good job of that. He wins every third time out? If Duval's blood pressure were any lower, he'd be flat-lining.

In an attempt to introduce some stress-inducing issues--just to fill in the gap, you understand--this rivalry thing between Duval and Woods has been invented.

Woods was No. 1 before Duval replaced him. O'Meara, among others, believes that little fact has gotten on Tiger's nerves, although Woods denies it. He said he enjoys competing with Duval on all kinds of fronts.

"Cool," Woods said. "Number 2? Actually, it's fine. It's one of those things that's cyclical. Everybody's going to have their runs. David's having his run right now. It's all part of the game."

Woods is probably little off-base, though. Duval isn't just running, he's downright sprinting.

But there is one area where Woods has a clear edge. That would be in the major department. Woods has one--the 1997 Masters, which he won by a record 12 shots. Couples said it's not a secret that Duval is major-less . . . so far.

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