Duval back in 'control,' smiling at St. Andrews

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 19, 2015, 4:20 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – David Duval is about four years older than Tiger Woods, and he emerged on the scene at just about the same time. Woods was the phenom, of course, the child prodigy who first swung a club on television when he was 3 and seemed destined for glory ever since. Duval, meanwhile, was raw intensity.

“It’s like there should be an asterisk next to my name,” he said back in those early days, when he and Woods were wrestling for the top spot on the world rankings. “Down at the bottom of the page it would say, ‘Difficult to get to know. Easy to misunderstand.’”

Duval did not play golf so much as he stared it down through his wraparound Oakleys. He carried pain from his childhood; his older brother Brent died when he was 12. David was just 9 and donated bone marrow in an effort to save Brett’s life. In rare moments of openness David would admit that he blamed himself. His parents went through a heart-wrenching divorce in the aftermath. David Duval’s escape was to hit golf balls. He loved how it felt to make golf balls answer to his whims.

That was the draw for Duval. He did not care much for acclaim, and he did not like fame at all. In 1998, he won four tournaments and more than $2.5 million – most on the Tour. He didn’t look very happy. In 1999, he won four more times in the first four months and, for 14 weeks, became the No. 1 player in the world. Woods took the spot from him in July. Duval took it back for a week in August. This looked to be the first thrilling rivalry in golf since perhaps Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus 20 years before.

And then Woods and Duval went their separate ways. It was subtle at first. Duval suffered a back injury in 2000, Woods’ magical year, but he still almost won the 2001 Masters, the one Woods won to complete the Tiger Slam. Duval did win the Open Championship that year at Royal Lytham. But after that victory, he seemed oddly unsatisfied. “It really kind of struck me that it’s just a game,” he said a few months afterward. “And I think that, having won, I realized there’s much more out there.”

He began missing cuts. From 1999-2001, he missed a total of three cuts. In 2002, he missed eight. In 2003, he missed 14 in 18 tournaments. He took a break from the game – he was beat up, he was suffering from vertigo, he was lost as a golfer. In 2005, the former No. 1 played in 20 events. He missed 18 cuts and withdrew from another tournament. He shot 80 or worse seven times, including his opening round here at the Old Course.

The fall was more or less unprecedented. There have been other steep falls in golf, of course, others in sports, but to see Duval drop from No. 1 in the world, from Tiger Woods’ presumptive rival, to someone who could not consistently break 80 was jaw-dropping and sad.

In 2006, he shot an awful 84 at Augusta. It was horrifying. I followed him around a bit the next day, just to see what it was that kept him going. I saw him play the most remarkably awful hole I’ve ever seen a professional play. On the second hole, he hooked his drive into the woods, into an unplayable lie. He dropped the ball and hit his third shot off a stake, where it bounced back into an unplayable lie. He dropped the ball again, and hit his next shot off a tree and back into the woods. His sixth shot made the fairway, his seventh dropped into a bunker, his eighth splashed on the green and he two-putted from there. That’s a 10, the worst score ever on the second hole at Augusta.

But here was the crazy part: On the back nine, Duval went crazy. He birdied 10. He hit a brilliant shot at 12 and made birdie there. He birdied 14. He birdied the killer 17th. The wind was blowing pretty good, players were falling apart, but Duval couldn’t miss. He had three or four other good looks. He shot 32 on the back and could have shot a 29. He missed the cut by a million shots, but when it was over he and his wife Susie walked to the clubhouse, and there was a big smile on David’s face. That smile has always fascinated me. In all the years since his game crashed, the question to me was simple: Why go on playing? What joy could he still get out of golf?

Sunday at St. Andrews, Duval was in the first group to tee off. Duval had made the cut somewhat heroically: He was right on the cut line Saturday when he three-putted 17 and then went to 18 to make the cut-saving birdie. “I birdied the 18th knowing I had to,” he said. “That was cool.”

In the morning he proceeded to play like his younger self. Tiger Woods had missed the cut, leaving St. Andrews entirely baffled about the state of his game. And Duval birdied the second hole, the fifth, the seventh and the ninth. He made three birdies in four holes on the back nine and got his score to minus-6, which actually put him on the morning leaderboard. He put on a display of precision that reminded so much of the younger more severe version of himself. Only this time, he seemed to be enjoying it all. That smile.

And, after the round was over – he shot 67 and is 5 under for the tournament – he explained.

“The biggest enjoyment I get in the game of golf is controlling the golf ball,” he said. “Yeah, I loved winning golf tournaments … but I loved being in control of the golf ball.

“Now, I feel like I'm entirely in control of the golf ball. I've hit some crappy shots, don't get me wrong. I've hit some really crappy shots. But it's like, okay, so I'll go hit it again now. But being in control and hitting the golf ball where you're trying to hit it, it just gives me great pleasure.”

That is what keeps so many people in the game, right? You hit all the bad shots so that you can hit just a few good ones. You deal with the agonies of golf so that, every now and again, you can have a few moments when you feel in complete control. Duval is 43 now, and it has been 14 years since he has won a golf tournament. In the last decade, he has played in 186 tournaments and made the cut in only 56 of them.

Is it worth it for good moments?

“I'll go play tomorrow and do the best I can,” he says. “Maybe I'll shoot 67 again, maybe I'll shoot 77, who knows? But I'll have a smile on my face and enjoy walking around St. Andrews, I can tell you that.”

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

Getty Images

McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

Getty Images

What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x