The number had grown to 0-for-92. He had come so close so many times, but as a professional, you had to wonder when it would happen.
And then ' voila ' he won at Kingsmill in 1997. And one week later the floodgates swung open again at the Walt Disney World Classic. Duval won again, and you wondered if he ever was going to lose.
Duval was to go on a tear of seven wins in 13 months, but in October of 97, he had just won his debut event and was about to go into another. Winning was still new, even a little weird. He had won many times in college, even been a rare four-time All-American, and he had won on the Buy.Com (then Nike) Tour. But for nearly three years on the regular tour, he had known nothing but heartbreak and near misses.
Then, suddenly, he went to Disney a tournament winner.
Two and four-fifths of a year on Tour, I didnt win a golf tournament, Duval explained. However, I had the opportunity to win ' I dont know ' probably a dozen tournaments up until then. Some of them I was close to the lead starting the final day, so I had many opportunities.
And the point Im getting at is that, once I learned how and figured how to do it, I havent done anything differently. I just continued to get it that position where I have an opportunity to win.
He had broken through at Kingsmill in a playoff against Duffy Waldorf and Grant Waite. He came down to Disney at Orlando and, after three holes at the short Lake Buena Vista course, he found himself at 2-over-par.
It kind of woke me up and made me realize I had another tournament to play in, he said. Obviously I came to town walking about two inches off the ground, but once the tournament started, it kind of knocked me to the ground and woke me up.
He finished that first day by eventually recording nine birdies, which turned his 2-over into 7-under. Duval was tied for second, one shot behind Payne Stewart.
Following a second round in which he shot 70, he fell down the ladder to five shots behind Stewart. But a third-round 66, 6-under-par, put him solidly in second place. Beginning Sunday, he was only two shots out of the lead held by Len Mattiace.
In the fourth round, all the things that used to turn defeats ' suddenly turned into successes. On the 71st hole, he hit an errant drive with a 3-wood, but the ball hit a tree and bounded out in the fairway. He bogeyed the 72nd, and in the old days, either one of those would be enough to send him spiraling down out of contention.
Not at Disney. He grittily hung in there and was still alive, going into a playoff with Dan Forsman. On the first hole, though, Duval again encountered trouble. He knocked his approach into a bunker, then compounded his difficulties by hitting a lukewarm bunker shot.
He still had life, however, when Forsmans approach shot died in a horrible lie near the green. Forsman flubbed his chip shot, Duval stroked his 15-foot putt dead in the center, and suddenly it was over. Duval, who up to now couldnt buy a win with a million dollars, suddenly couldnt lose even when he was botching the three final holes.
Im motivated by my potential, whatever that is, he said. I know now what it feels like. And I know this is turning into a good streak.
Duvals victories at Kingsmill and Disney were the impetus that kick-started him onto a year-long run that didnt stop until he had passed Tiger Woods and reached No. 1 in the world. He, incidentally, was the last one to reach that lofty goal until Woods regained the top rung in 1999.
Once I learned how and figured out how to do it, I havent done anything different, Duval said. When I have an opportunity to win now, I feel more comfortable about closing the deal now. Instead of not finishing them off, I have.
Duval has battled injuries the past two years, primarily a problematic back. Outside expectations are not necessarily high for me right now, he says.
Yet he himself has high expectations. But even when he was finishing in the runner-up position, he felt he was doing something that only one man in the entire field had done.
I think ' and I still think ' that most people dont understand that if you finish second in a PGA Tour event, youve played very, very well, said Duval. Its nothing to hang your head about. Youve played great golf, and made a few putts, but you might have come up a shot or two short. Theres nothing to hang your head low about in that situation.