Duval not giving up on his game

By John FeinsteinMay 1, 2014, 6:42 pm

David Duval understands completely. He knows when tournament directors turn down his request for a sponsor exemption to their event it isn’t because they don’t like him or don’t respect who he once was as a player.

“The truth is I’ve played myself into this position,” he said recently. “It’s up to me to try to play my way out of it. But it’s not easy.”

It isn’t easy when you have to depend on the kindness of others to get a chance to play. But that’s where Duval is at age 42 – 13 years removed from winning the British Open and 15 years after he was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Duval has teed it up seven times since the wraparound season began last October. He played once in October; twice in November; didn’t play in January; played twice in February; once in March and once in April. It’s likely he won’t play at all in May.

Duval won 13 times on Tour before he turned 30 – including the 2001 British Open – his most important and, as it has turned out, final victory. Since then he has been golf’s mystery man, someone who went from thinking of himself as someone who could look Tiger Woods in the eye to becoming virtually invisible in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Duval has given a lot of thought to what happened to him after his signature victory at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He had been close in other majors – most notably the 1998 Masters where he was sitting in the Bobby Jones cabin on Sunday with then-Augusta National chairman Jack Stephens as Mark O’Meara lined up his birdie putt on the 18th green. At that moment, O’Meara, Fred Couples and Duval were all tied at 7 under par and, unless O’Meara made the putt, the three were heading for a playoff.

“No need to worry here, David,” Stephens said. “Nobody ever makes this putt.”

O’Meara made the putt.

“The second the ball disappeared Mr. Stephens stood up, put his hand out and said, ‘Look forward to seeing you next year,’” Duval said, able to laugh at the memory now. “Then he walked out the door.”

Golf had not only been Duval’s passion as a kid, it had been his best friend. When he was 10, his older brother Brent died of aplastic anemia, a disease that attacks the bone marrow. David donated his bone marrow to Brent but the operation didn’t save his brother. With his family in tatters, David found solace on the golf course.

“I didn’t need anyone in order to go play, hit balls or just spend hours in a bunker,” he said. “I was a pretty good baseball player, but you need others to play baseball. Golf was where I went to escape. Fortunately, I was pretty good at it.”

Good enough to be a four-time All American at Georgia Tech and then to find stardom on Tour not long after turning pro. Duval had seven second-place finishes before he got his first win on Tour, but when he finally broke though in the fall of 1997 at Kingsmill, he proceeded to win three tournaments in a row. Early in 1999 he shot 59 on the last day of the Bob Hope Desert Classic and soon after that he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I honestly thought back then that I could compete with Tiger on a regular basis,” he said. “Not beat him all the time, obviously, but some of the time. I thought my entire game – physical and mental – was in the ballpark with his.”

He paused. “Turned out I was wrong.”

Like everyone else in golf, Duval was blown away by what Woods accomplished in winning his Tiger Slam in 2000 and 2001. Even so, Duval’s win at Lytham should have been a beginning, not an ending. And yet, Duval clearly wasn’t the same after that victory.

“A lot of things happened,” he said. “When I won, it was thrilling, absolutely fantastic. But not long afterwards I realized I didn’t feel any different about who I was or about my life than I had before I won. It was an existential type of thing, you know, is that all there is? I thought my life should be different – feel different – and it really didn’t. Something went out of me there.”

Soon after, happiness intervened. He met Susan Persichitte while waiting for a table in a Denver restaurant and was smitten instantly. They were married, he adopted her three children and they had two of their own. No longer was golf Duval’s best friend or his No. 1 priority.

His game – when he played – spiraled. There were some injuries thrown into the mix, too. Duval had a five-year exemption after his British Open win. When that was up he was able to use two more yearlong exemptions because he was in the top 25 on the career money list. After that he began to depend on sponsor exemptions.

There were spasms of good play: his out-of-nowhere tie for second place at the 2009 U.S. Open when he came into the championship ranked 882nd in the world. There was a second place at Pebble Beach the following year, which helped him get his exempt status back at the end of that season. Since then, there have been very few encouraging moments. Which is why Duval understands when tournament directors turn him down for sponsor exemptions in spite of his past status as a star.

“David will always be someone who I give serious consideration to,” said Kym Hougham, tournament director for the Wells Fargo Classic. “For one thing, he’s David Duval. For another, he’s one of those guys who treated people well when he was on his way up the ladder and that’s something you remember. I get a lot of guys who are struggling asking for sponsor exemptions who were impossible to deal with when they were going well. That’s an easy no.

“David’s a hard no. This year, it was close but I had to say no. We’d given him exemptions two of the last four years. I like to use as many spots as I can for guys with local ties. I had three local guys (out of four spots) and David just didn’t make the cut. Doesn’t mean he won’t next year if he asks. I called and left him a message telling him I was sorry he hadn’t made it. He actually called me back to thank me for calling. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Duval understands the position that Hougham and other tournament directors are in. His game has been MIA for a while. And yet, he believes it’s still out there somewhere.

“I feel better about my game right now than I have in a long time,” he said just before the start of the Zurich Classic. “Problem is it’s tough to prove that if you aren’t playing. I’m playing this week and then may not play for five weeks.”

Duval was hoping to finish top 10 in New Orleans so he wouldn’t need a sponsor exemption in Charlotte. He played well for three days and was T-12 going into Sunday. But a Sunday 73 dropped him to a tie for 25th place. Even so, it was his best finish since a tie for 23rd in Las Vegas in 2011.

Now, though, he has to wait for another chance to play. He will try to qualify for the U.S. Open and play in Memphis in June. After that, he doesn’t know.

“I’m not ready to give up,” he said. “If I honestly thought I was done, I’d just stay home. But I don’t think I am.”

Here’s hoping he’s right.

Getty Images

TT postscript: 'Good Lord' what a start to Rd. 3

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 11:08 pm

ATLANTA – Sweet fancy Moses! That might be southern slang or just something heard on “Seinfeld,” but, holy moly does it apply to what we witnessed from Tiger Woods early Saturday afternoon. Here are some things I think I think after Round 3 of the Tour Championship.

• I don’t just think that Tiger has a three-shot lead with one round to play. That’s a cold, hard fact. His 5-under 65 at East Lake could have been much lower, but it’s hard to complain when you go from co-leader to 3 up by day’s end. Take a look at this start:

Six birdies in his first seven holes. That’s prettier than a peach in June [definitely southern slang, and just terrible]. He couldn’t keep the pace, and played his final 11 holes in 1 over. But that start was a work of art. Take it to France next week and hang it in the Louvre.

"Yeah, I got off to a nice start there. I made some nice putts," Woods said in near disbelief. "Good Lord."

• It felt like old times out there today. The crowd was roaring. Our man couldn’t miss. And it didn’t look like anyone could step up to his challenge. Ultimately, his tepid finish allowed Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy to stay within shouting distance. Thanks to a McIlroy birdie and a Rose par at the last, it’s Rory who gets to play alongside Tiger on Sunday.

• Can Tiger skip the ninth and 16th holes tomorrow? He’s played those two in a combined 5 over par this week, making bogey on both in the third round. He was fortunate to only drop one shot on 16, thanks to an incredible fourth shot.

Said Tiger: "The fourth shot was money, because I was practicing that in the practice round, hitting a 56 or a 60 [degree wedge], and I couldn't quite get it right. So I went with a 60 today, and I made sure I hooked it in there with a little bit of hook spin so that first hop kicked through the grain, and it came out nicely."

• Many of you noticed Tiger’s feet kept slipping on tee shots. I’d love to give you an explanation, but even Tiger doesn’t know why.

"My foot slipped a lot today. I don't know why," he said. "I'll analyze some of the video and some of the stuff, and we'll figure it out for tomorrow."

• Can Tiger win the FedExCup? He sure can. He needs to win tomorrow and then have Rose finish in a three-way tie for fifth or worse. But while the $10 million bonus would be nice, it’s just that: a bonus. Let’s end this five-year winless drought and get No. 80!

Getty Images

Key stats: Woods 42 for 44 with 54-hole lead

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 22, 2018, 10:53 pm

Tiger Woods shot a 5-under 65 Saturday, and he will take a three-stroke lead into the final round at the Tour Championship as he looks for win No. 80. Here are the key stats for Woods' round.

• 12 under par; 65 in third round; lowest round by anyone in field on Saturday

• Birdied six of first seven holes (including five in a row on Nos. 3-7)

• Longest birdie streak since 2012 at TPC Boston (six in first round)

• 45th career outright 54-hole lead on PGA Tour (won 42 of previous 44)

• 95.5 win percentage with outright 54-hole lead (PGA Tour since 2013: 42 percent)

• Previous 54-hole lead/co-lead – 2013 WGC-Bridgestone (his last win)

• 23-for-23 converting 54-hole leads of three shots of more on PGA Tour

• 42 years old; Sam Snead was 47 when he won his 80th PGA Tour title

• Sunday is 1,876 days since last win (2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational)

• Two-time winner of Tour Championship (1999 in Houston, 2007 at East Lake)

• Trying to become first player to win Tour Championship three or more times

• Projected to move to 13th in World Ranking with win (most likely position)

• Seeking 13th PGA Tour win holding lead/co-lead in all four rounds

• Last PGA Tour win with lead/co-lead all four rounds – 2013 at Doral

• Leads field in strokes gained: putting through three rounds

• Won each of last three instances leading field for week in strokes gained: putting

• Leads field in scrambling through three rounds (14-for-18)

• Third in field in strokes gained: tee to green through three rounds

Getty Images

Woods leads by three; McIlroy in final group

By Doug FergusonSeptember 22, 2018, 10:41 pm

ATLANTA – Tiger Woods is three shots ahead and one round away from capping his comeback season with a victory.

Woods played the most dynamic golf he has all year with six birdies in his opening seven holes, building as much as a five-shot lead before he cooled off for a 5-under 65 and a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy in the Tour Championship.

He has the 54-hole lead for the first time since his last victory in 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational. He has never lost an official tournament when leading by more than two shots.

Woods has never been in better position to show he's all the way back.

It will be the first time Woods and McIlroy (66) play in the final group Sunday on the PGA Tour.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 10:25 pm

Tiger Woods fired a 5-under 65 on Saturday to build a three-stroke lead over Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship. We tracked him.