And, yeah, it was even more impressive after the 1998 Shell Houston Open ' which he won, of course. That victory was his fifth in just 12 outings. Now, Tiger has since done better, but no one else has. Duvals two-year win campaign vaulted him past Woods all the way to No. 1 in the world. And Duval holds the distinction of being the last man in the world ' besides Tiger, of course ' to be ranked No. 1.
Funny, but Duval for the longest time had a habit of close-but-no-trophies. He finished second or third four times in his rookie season of 1995, five times in 1996, and twice finished runner-up before breaking through late on 1997. He was the king of the power-lip, close so many times but never able to break through.
When his luck changed, though, it was like a man who hits the big payout on the slot machine. Just like the man who cant stop the flood of coins, he couldnt stop the wins. Duval won his last three in 97. In 98, the spigot was still flowing.
Houston was the last win on this mini-run until he won again that same year at the NEC World Series. And he did it with such style, coming from six behind on the final day, shooting a 64 to win it.
Saturday, Duval had sweated through a 73. Just nothing was going right, he said.
But after it was over, I felt I shot a pretty good score, that I hung in there all right. I thought I had an outside chance.
Jeff Maggert and Dan Forsman were tied for the lead beginning the final round, both six shots ahead of Duval. But Maggert struggled with his putter and didnt make a birdie for 12 holes. Forsman hit the bogey train and quickly was out of it.
Instead, vaulting to the front were Lee Janzen and Duval. Janzen, starting from three strokes of the pace, birdied the first three to grab a share of the lead. He then took the lead with a birdie at 5.
Duval, meanwhile, was busily shooting a 32 on the front nine. That left him three shots behind Janzen at that point.
I knew that unless I could put together a string of birdies the last eight weeks, I was going to have to make and eagle, said Duval. So
Cue an eagle. Make that two eagles.
He eagled the 13th with a 6-iron to 25 feet, then sank the putt. And then he eagled the 15th with driver-4 iron and an 14-foot putt. Lo and behold, he had made up all six strokes and was now tied with Janzen.
Now Duval shifted into overdrive. At the par-3 16th, he boomed his tee shot to 3 feet ' birdie, but enough to again tie Janzen, who was playing behind Duval and had birdied 13. But the tension was about to come to an end. Janzen bogeyed the 14th and 16th, missing a couple of putts of less than six feet. Janzen then drowned all hope of getting back in it when his tee shot of No. 17 found water.
While Janzen was falling by the wayside, Fred Couples and Maggert were making late charges to keep the interest alive. Duval gave them momentary hope when his drive went into the trees on 18 and all he could do was punch out.
But he lofted his third shot to within 20 feet. And then he coolly drained the putt. There was nothing left to do but sit back and wait for the field to fire and fall back ' which they eventually did.
Its just weird how it all has unfolded, said Duval. I just go out there and play and do my best to just stay out of my own way and let what will be, be. And lately it has been awfully nice.
Of course, it hasnt been as nice lately. After his impressive run, Duval lost the No. 1 position back to Woods when Tiger began winning everything in sight and Duval ran into back problems. Then, to compound his difficulties, this year he was diagnosed with vertigo.
But in the late 90s, there was no one better in the world. For two years, he was better than anyone else on the planet.