What do you get the golfer who has everything? Last Christmas, David Duval's girlfriend, Julie McArthur, got her beau all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. No wonder, then, Duval frowns upon all the talk of his "rivalry" with Tiger Woods. It's not the right word.
"It takes two people to make a rivalry, right?" Duval asks. "What if they never contend in the same tournaments—is that still a rivalry? The thing about golf is that it's pretty rare when two players are peaking at the same time. You just can't schedule it." Sad but true. In the 2� years since Woods turned pro, he and Duval have yet to stage a final-round shootout to decide a tournament. Last year they teed it up at the same event 15 times, and on only three occasions did both crack the top 10—the Mercedes Championships, the Masters and the World Series, all limited-field events. Even during those weeks, when both players ostensibly had their A games, they never finished within four strokes of each other and together produced only one victory ( Duval's at the World Series, when Woods finished in a distant tie for fifth). This season they combined to win three of the Tour's first six tournaments, but while one was surging to victory, the other was nowhere to be found. Predictably, the much dreamed-about matchup in the finals of the World Match Play didn't come close to materializing.
True rivalries are not created in the press or by the computers that spit out the World Ranking. History tells us that they are forged inside the ropes, preferably in the majors, and until Duval and Woods go mano a mano, their alleged rivalry will remain merely theoretical.
The good news is that it could take no more than a handful of duels to propel Woods and Duval's relationship into the ranks of the historic. In the post-Hogan epoch there have been three rivalries that lived up to any definition of the word—Palmer-Nicklaus throughout the 1960s, Nicklaus-Trevino in the early '70s, and Nicklaus-Watson in the late '70s and early '80s. All were built on classic confrontations, but not as many as you might think. What they lacked in frequency, they made up for in artistic merit and historical importance.
Nicklaus and Palmer first tangoed at the 1960 U.S. Open, which was later to be recognized as the King's coronation and the coming-out party for Fat Jack, who finished second as a 20-year-old amateur. Two years later at the Open they had their most meaningful showdown, an 18-hole playoff at Oakmont, in Arnie's backyard, and Nicklaus's victory, his first as a pro, signaled a seismic shift in the golf world. Three times in the next five seasons Nicklaus and Palmer finished one-two in a major. Nicklaus won twice, including at the '67 Open, when they were paired in the final group over the last two rounds.
Trevino popped up on Nicklaus's radar screen when the Merry Mex won the 1968 U.S. Open, marking the first of four times he would relegate Jack to runner-up status in a major. The rivalry became intense in the '71 Open at Merion, where Trevino won an 18-hole playoff, and the next year he halted Jack's bid for the Grand Slam, beating the Bear by a shot at the British Open. Trevino also clipped Nicklaus by a shot at the '74 PGA.
Watson staked his claim to the Bear's throne in 1977, trumping Nicklaus in a taut Masters and then staring him down in the greatest duel in golf history, at the British Open at Turnberry. They had two other epic t�te-�-t�tes—at the 1981 Masters, when Watson held off a hard-charging Nicklaus, and at the '82 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, when he slayed Nicklaus with the game's most famous chip-in.
We remember these encounters because they elevated both the players involved and their sport. Duval and Woods can take golf even higher, having arrived during an unparalleled confluence of TV, money and fan interest. Only four years apart in age, they will face each other in their primes. The addition of the World Golf Championships will also improve the odds of Duval and Woods duking it out, as both players consolidate their schedules around the same marquee events.
There is no question that Duval and Woods are the most explosive talents in golf, capable of a first-one-to-30-under-par-wins duel the likes of which the game has never seen. It might happen next month at Augusta. Or maybe it will never happen. Right now we can be content with just the possibility.