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Stuck in Second
Gary Van Sickle
May 19, 1997
Will David Duval ever shift into high gear on Sunday, or will he always fall back, as he did in Atlanta?
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May 19, 1997

Stuck In Second

Will David Duval ever shift into high gear on Sunday, or will he always fall back, as he did in Atlanta?

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We can't wait. To be precise, we won't wait—not us, not the Now Generation. We want our heroes and our heroics the same as our fast food, our E-mail, our faxes and our life experiences. We want them now. That's why we're so taken by someone like Tiger Woods, who won in his fifth start as a pro, or Phil Mickelson, who won on Tour while he was still an amateur, or even Jack Nicklaus, whose first win in his first year was the U.S. Open.

Someone like David Duval has no chance with us. Instead of being considered one of the best players on the PGA Tour, he's labeled the best player without a victory. Duval loses every match against our shrinking attention spans. Although he's only 25, in our minds he's already a graybeard. a grizzled veteran who's practically ready for the Senior tour. By the time he gets that elusive first win—which might take several more weeks, maybe months—it'll be too late. We will have already clicked the remote. We don't understand why Duval, a native of Jacksonville and in his third year on Tour, hasn't already mastered stuff like closing the door and stepping on necks, why he's burdened with the same shortcomings that kept Tom Watson and Curtis Strange and Fred Couples from winning until their third seasons.

So last week at the BellSouth Classic we were again unable to announce Duval's arrival as the latest greatest. Long-hitting Scott McCarron got in the way, although Greg Norman and Nick Price almost did the honors, at the vast TPC at Sugarloaf, a course Norman designed in the rolling hills of what is, temporarily, the northeast edge of Atlanta's suburban sprawl. Instead we were left to puzzle over another high, yet somehow unsatisfying, finish by Duval, who has been among the top three in 11 tournaments in his 47 months on Tour. He began the final round tied with McCarron, and played well, especially on Sugarloaf's dazzling back nine. The catch? Duval's scorecard read even-par 72, which left him in a tie for second with Brian Henninger and Lee Janzen. McCarron shot 69 and won by three. The fine line between McCarron's second Tour win and Duval's seventh second was a matter of a few putts. McCarron, using a long putter, made more than Duval, who kept coming close.

Close...that's the tough part, and an unfortunate pattern for Duval. Even at Georgia Tech, where he was only the third Division I player, along with Gary Hallberg and Mickelson, to make first-team All-America four times, Duval finished second in 11 tournaments while winning five. His first, and only, trip to the Tour's qualifying school was a humbling experience. Billed as the Can't-Miss Kid, he failed to get his card. Relegated to the Nike tour for two years, he finally won enough money to graduate to the big Tour, where he played well almost from the start. Duval was 11th on the money list in 1995 and 10th in '96, when he starred in the Presidents Cup. With $2.4 million in career earnings, he is about $200,000 away from passing Bobby Wadkins as the leading money winner who has never won; however, it took Wadkins 22 years and more than 600 tournaments to get where he is, while Duval has made less than 80 starts.

Duval has been good enough to lead five times after 54 holes but never good enough to finish first. "David has just been beat," says Tour veteran Patrick Burke. "It's almost like what Norman went through. When David gets in contention, the other guys seem to play better. Watson struggled with his putter for years, but when David had a chance to win at Memorial last year, Tom suddenly started making putts and won. David played well at Pebble Beach in '95, but Peter Jacobsen blitzed him."

At Pebble, Duval tied the old tournament scoring record during Jacobsen's victory. This year Duval shot 62 in the third round to break the 72-hole record again but was beaten by an even hotter Mark O'Meara. No one seems to remember that Duval finished birdie-birdie to tie for second with Woods. "If I keep tying Tiger," Duval joked, "I'll be fine."

There were other good chances. As an amateur in 1992, Duval led the BellSouth after three rounds but blew up with a 79 on Sunday. Last year in Atlanta he led by two after 54 holes, struggled to a 76 and tied for third—the one instance, he says, when he felt that he let a tournament get away, that he lost it. "A professional ought to be able to scrape it around in 72 or 73 even on a bad day," Duval says. He couldn't come up with an acceptable final round this year at Doral, either. After a nine-birdie 70 gave him a one-shot edge over Price after three rounds, Duval closed with a 74 and tied for fourth as Steve Elkington blew by everyone.

Usually, tournament winners are the guys who play best on the weekend. At Sugarloaf, Duval started with a pair of 66s. He was one over par on the weekend. McCarron went nine under on Saturday and Sunday despite pulling his left hamstring during a brief rain delay on Friday. Jogging down the fairway to mark his ball, he accepted Dicky Pride's challenge to race. Sixty yards later, McCarron felt a pop.

"All David has to think about is: It's a 72-hole tournament and you have to play good for four days," says Janzen, the 1993 U.S. Open champion whose reputation as a closer earned him the nickname Terminator. "David's going to win, and he's probably going to win by 10 when he does. No one expected me to win in my third year. In some ways you've got to be lucky to win. I've been lucky a few times. David hasn't."

The statistics highlight Duval's Sunday shortcomings. Last year he averaged two strokes more in the final round than he did in the third. This year that gap has widened to three strokes (69.33 to 72.33). Despite that telltale number, Duval steadfastly clings to the long view: He'll accept the near misses because he feels his game is improving. Still, it's not getting any easier to answer the inevitable questions. "I want to win more than y'all are curious as to why I haven't," he said on Saturday when the subject came up for a third straight day. "Writers say, 'You don't seem destroyed by it.' There's no reason to be. When you can say you've done your best, there's nothing more to do. I'm flattered people ask. That means they think I can win. If you want to call not winning choking, it doesn't bother me."

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