Whether Duval has enough juice left to conquer the hills at Augusta remains to be seen, as does the jinx of carrying a two-week winning streak into the year's first major. Remember, it's at the Masters that players purposely blow the Wednesday par-3 tournament because the winner has never won the real title. "I'm not superstitious like that," says Duval, who won three straight starts to close the '97 season. "I don't buy into it. The thing is, if you ask any big gamblers, they say don't bet against streaks."
A certain amount of historical evidence points to Duval's coming up aces this week. It was in 1960 that Palmer brought his four wins to the Masters. With a brilliant finishing kick he snatched that title, too. (Miller finished 15th in '74, blaming his so-so play on having gotten caught up in the hype.) More recently only two players have ascended to No. 1 in the World Ranking without having won a major, Ian Woosnam in 1991 and Fred Couples the following year. Within weeks of reaching the top spot, both were being fitted for green formal wear.
At the champion's press conference on Sunday, Duval was asked what it meant to head to the Masters as everyone's favorite. "It's nice and it's flattering, but it has no bearing on how I will perform," he said. "I can tell you that nobody else is going to care, so I certainly won't." Duval entertained a couple of more questions and then cut the session short. He had another appointment he needed to get to.