The 1998 PGA Tour schedule bulges with 45 tournaments, but only four really matter when assessing the player of the year. At least that's what Mark O'Meara wonks would have us believe. The major championships have assumed such an outsized place in the game that when O'Meara won the British Open back in July—only three months after he had taken the Masters—the player of the year voting became nothing more than a formality. O'Meara got another boost last week with his stunning comeback victory over Tiger Woods in the World Match Play Championship at the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, England, and in the coming months he's sure to get the nod from his peers and from the golf writers. That will be a travesty because he has not been the player of the year. David Duval (right), who from start to finish has been far more dominant this season, is the more worthy choice.
The evidence is both quantitative and anecdotal. With $2,464,408, Duval has already smashed the Tour's single-season earnings record, and he's nearly $800,000 ahead of O'Meara, who ranks sixth. Duval's Tour-leading scoring average of 69.02 also has him within shouting distance of Greg Norman's record of 68.81, set in 1994 ( O'Meara is fourth at 69-45). You want more? Duval has won in three time zones and in all four seasons—winter (the Tucson Chrysler Classic), spring (the Shell Houston Open), summer (the NEC World Series of Golf, in Akron) and fall (the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill, in Williamsburg, Va.). His game travels so well that he has victoriously negotiated a target course ( Tucson National), a tricked-up TPC (the Woodlands), an old-school ball-striker's track ( Firestone) and a quirky Pete Dye layout (Kingsmill). Duval's win at the Michelob two weeks ago was his seventh in a span of 364 days, the most prolific victory binge since Tom Watson won eight in a year's time in 1979-80.
Looking at the Tour stats, Duval is first by a mile in the par-breakers category, the percentage of holes a player has birdied or eagled, and thus the game's truest test of potency. He's also first in putting, first in total driving and tied for fourth in greens in regulation. Warren Buffett would kill for a portfolio like that.
While Duval's four PGA Tour victories in '98 are double O'Meara's total, he took an O-fer in the majors, and for many observers that's the end of the discussion. Gimme a break. We're talking about player of the year, not player of the majors. In the 1990s four golfers have been voted P.O.Y. by their peers without having won a Grand Slam event—Wayne Levi in 1990, Fred Couples in '91, Nick Price in '93 and Norman in '95. In these cases sustained excellence was accurately judged to be more important than anything that happened in the majors. Anyway, it's not like Duval dogged it in the Big Four this year. He was up three strokes with three holes to play at Augusta before O'Meara stole the green jacket with his historic finishing kick, relegating Duval to second. At the U.S. Open he finished in a tie for seventh despite two 75s, and he was 11th at the British. A missed cut at the PGA hurts Duval's case, although he has failed to earn a weekend tee time only twice in 21 starts. ( O'Meara has three missed cuts despite having played in four fewer events.)
By any other measure, it's clear-that Duval was in contention far more often than O'Meara. Throw out their respective victories and Duval still has more top 10 finishes (seven to five), and only twice has he failed to crack the top 20 (27th in Phoenix and 23rd at Doral). O'Meara, meanwhile, has been worse than 20th five times, including a 57th and a 42nd. When it comes to seasonlong performance, O'Meara clearly is the Garfunkel to Duval's Simon.
There's something else to consider, and it doesn't show up in any Tour stat. Right now Duval has an aura unmatched on the PGA Tour. He is a relentless birdie machine, stalking courses with a hardened detachment reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. Duval is a player to be feared. O'Meara inspires many things—respect and admiration for starters—but he doesn't have the same sort of presence.
Bottom line: O'Meara's double dip in the majors is an accomplishment for the ages, but this year belongs to Duval.